DR. MITCH: Can You Do Anything To Reduce The Risk That Your Breast Cancer Will Come Back?

Cancer is scary. Just as scary is the thought that once beaten it might recur and so a recent review in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association, looking at changes in lifestyle that might improve your odds, is worth sharing.

Here’s what they found:

  1. Gaining weight during or after breast cancer treatment, increases the risk that it will recur and also reduces survival;
  2. Physical activity has the greatest effect of all lifestyle factors on reducing breast cancer recurrence and it didn’t seem to matter what your level of activity had been before your cancer was diagnosed. They suggest in this review that women aim for at least 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity at least 5 days of the week along with 2 – 3 strength training sessions per week. Realistically this might be tough to achieve but it is certainly a goal worth aiming for;
  3. A diet that is high in saturated fats and high-fat dairy products may be associated with an increased risk. Having said that, you don’t need to avoid dairy products entirely because low-fat dairy products were not associated with any increased risk. They're okay;
  4. The influence of other diet modifications is still unclear. Certainly while it is healthy for you, the so-called Mediterranean diet (rich in vegetables, unsaturated fats, fruits, fish and whole grains with some wine thrown in but avoiding red meat), has not consistently been shown to affect the risk of recurrence;
  5. Soy, soy protein isolates, soy products such as edamame, tofu, tempeh and miso soup, do not appear to increase the risk and so in spite of what you might see on the internet, do not have to be avoided;
  6. Quitting smoking, even now, has a benefit and should be encouraged;
  7. Limiting alcohol intake to one or fewer drinks per day reduces the risk that a second primary breast cancer may develop but doesn't seem to affect the recurrence of the original breast cancer;
  8. Vitamin C and D supplementation may help.

Realistically, you might not be able to exercise or eat exactly according to these suggestions. That's completely understandable and you should not feel guilty about it because at the end of the day even if you are able to follow these recommendations to the letter, they are not a full proof shield against cancer coming back. Having said that, they do seem reasonable and are good for you in other ways so there certainly is no harm and may perhaps be some benefit in following them as best you can. Good luck!