Lifestyle Changes to Manage Breast Cancer
Lifestyle changes can be helpful in a variety of important ways:
- Strengthening your body so that you can withstand some of the rigors of treatment
- Optimizing the function of your immune system to aid in the fight against cancer
- Improving your emotional outlook, so you can enjoy life to the fullest, even during treatment for breast cancer
- Making healthful choices that will help you avoid other medical problems that could complicate your health
Limit Exposure to Estrogen when Possible
High levels of estrogen have been linked to the development of breast cancer. For older women, one modifiable exposure to estrogen is postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy. There are many risks and benefits associated with hormone replacement therapy, therefore, talk with your doctor about whether or not this therapy is appropriate for you.
Other lifestyle factors may also increase your exposure to estrogen. If possible, try to limit these factors:
- Excess weight after the age of menopause
- Alcohol consumption
- Physical inactivity
Limit Alcohol Consumption
Studies have shown that women who drink 2–4 alcoholic drinks per day have a 40% greater risk of developing breast cancer than non-drinkers. This might be due to the fact that alcohol can alter the way a woman's body metabolizes estrogen. This may cause blood estrogen levels to rise, increasing the risk of breast cancer onset.
Smoking is a known risk factor for many cancers. Although you may have already been diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s not too late to stop smoking. When you quit smoking, you reduce your risk of its many associated medical complications, which should improve your chances of withstanding the physical stresses of cancer and treatment. Also, since the immune system of smokers is generally less effective than non-smokers, by quitting you may be adding your immune system’s ability to join in the battle against cancer.
Ask your doctor about programs to help you stop smoking, such as group support, hypnosis, and alternative nicotine delivery systems.
For more information on quitting smoking, click here .
Reduce Your Risk of Infection
To decrease your risk of infection, avoid exposure to bacteria and viruses:
- Try to avoid crowds, especially during cold and flu season.
- Ask your doctor about immunization against the flu and pneumonia.
- Wash your hands thoroughly and often. Hand washing is the most effective method of decreasing the chance of catching colds and flu. You may wish to carry hand sanitizer with you for occasions when washing is not convenient.
For more information on washing your hands properly, click here
Follow a Nutritious Diet
Eating a healthful diet may help you avoid other medical conditions linked to poor nutrition. Because cancer itself and some cancer treatment may have a dulling effect on your appetite, it’s important that you make the most of the calories you do take in. Strongly consider consulting a registered dietitian (RD) to help you learn more about the best kinds of foods for you to eat, and how to eat other, less healthful foods in moderation. (Your doctor can refer you to an RD.) Avoid making drastic changes in your diet based on fad diets.
For more information on eating a healthful diet, click here .
Participate in a Reasonable Level of Exercise
If you have not been exercising regularly, check with your doctor to determine a safe exercise program under your current circumstances. Exercise has many benefits that may help you withstand the physical and emotional stresses of cancer and cancer treatment:
- Modulating high levels of estrogen
- Promoting overall fitness
- Boosting your energy level
- Improving your immune system functioning
- Bolstering your spirits and improving your emotional outlook
You may consider consulting a personal trainer to help you set exercise goals, and to safely follow through on initiating an exercise program.
While incorporating exercise, be sure to balance rest and activities to prevent becoming too tired.
For more information on starting a regular exercise program,
Rest When Tired
The treatments for cancer can add to the fatigue you already feel from fighting cancer. In fact, fatigue is the most frequently experienced symptom of cancer and cancer treatments. The fatigue you feel can range from "just feeling tired" to complete and utter exhaustion. Wherever in this range you fall, you may find your fatigue quite distressing and affecting your quality of life.
It is important to allow your body time to rest. This will help your body have the strength to heal itself. Studies have shown a relationship between fatigue and an increased morbidity of cancer and cancer treatments as a result of fatigue's adverse effect on appetite, diminished quality of life, and loss of hope.
To help you avoid getting overtired, try not to do too much. Prioritize the things you need to do, and focus on the most important ones. Also, allow others to help you with daily chores, shopping, and preparing meals. Plan times throughout the day when you can rest.
For information on getting a good night's sleep, click here
The diagnosis of cancer is life-defining event that is difficult to handle for anyone. Facing the uncertainty of a serious disease, feeling anxious about how you will feel during treatment, and worrying about the impact of both the diagnosis and treatment on your plans and your family and friends, can take a devastating toll that no one should have to tackle on their own. Give yourself permission to call on any helpful resources, including the following:
- Religious community
- Empathetic support groups for people with your type of cancer
- Professional support (social workers, psychologists, and/or psychiatrists who are trained to help support cancer patients and their families)
People who allow themselves to seek help while they are recovering from cancer can often maintain better emotional equilibrium, which will help them face the challenges of cancer and its treatment.
For more information on increasing your social support, click here
When to Contact Your Doctor
It’s important that you don’t make major lifestyle changes without consulting your doctor, and verifying that you are proceeding safely. You are already being physically and emotionally challenged by the presence of cancer and the rigors of treatment. You and your doctor need to work together to make wise lifestyle choices and implement them in the healthiest way possible. Your doctor can provide referrals to an RD, personal trainer, therapist, and support group.
National Cancer Institute
Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation
Cecil Textbook of Medicine. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company; 2002.
Conn’s Current Therapy, 54th ed. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company; 2002.
Last reviewed February 2003 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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