How Breast Cancer Survivors Can Prevent Recurrence

Did you know that breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women? It has a major impact on society in the United States, affecting the lives of thousands of women and their families.

Breast Cancer Statistics in the U.S.

According to the American Cancer Society, “Currently, the average risk of a woman in the United States developing breast cancer sometime in her life is about 12 percent. This means there is a 1 in 8 chance she will develop breast cancer.”

The general 10-year survival rate of women with breast cancer is 83 percent. If the tumor is confined within the breast, the 5-year survival rate of breast cancer patients is 99 percent. However, BreastCancer.Org, a nonprofit organization providing up-to-date information about breast cancer, notes that about 40,920 women in the United States are expected to die in 2018 from cancer of the breast, even though death rates have been significantly decreasing since 1989.

Despite the decline in death rates over the last three decades, and how more women are winning their battle against the disease — there is still the matter of breast cancer recurrence. In fact, there is a 23 percent chance of local recurrence when cancer reaches the lymph nodes without radiation therapy following mastectomy.

Why Breast Cancer Recurs

When breast cancer comes back, it is called recurrence. Every woman who has had breast cancer fears the very day it comes back. The majority of recurrences happen during the first five years after breast cancer treatment, and could be because of the following:

Additionally, since several studies conclude that lifestyle is a contributing factor to initial breast cancer diagnosis, it only makes sense that living a “no holds barred” lifestyle significantly contributes to the recurrence of cancer in the breasts.

Lifestyle Changes that May Help

Breast cancer survivors who went into remission often live with the concern of facing their disease again, or worse — a new cancer. To better cope with the side effects of breast cancer treatment and reduce the likelihood of breast cancer recurrence, here are a few changes that every breast cancer survivor should incorporate into their lifestyle:

1. Break a sweat

After spending several months or years within the confines of a medical ward, the body will crave movement, exercise, and sweat. Spending two and half hours working out is “the most important lifestyle factor when it comes to decreasing your risk for recurrence,” says Ellen Warner, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto and an affiliate scientist at Sunnybrook Research Institute.

New research adds to the long list of health benefits brought by physical activity. According to the study, as little as 20 minutes of exercise could provide anti-inflammatory effects. Not only does exercise lower inflammation, but also levels of hormones linked with recurrence.  

The American Cancer Society recommends that cancer survivors should:

  • Avoid long-term physical inactivity and return to normal daily activities as soon as possible.
  • Exercise at least 150 minutes per week.
  • Incorporate strength training exercises at least two days per week.

2. Drink in moderation

Giving up alcoholic beverages can be challenging for many, but keep in mind that research indicates that limiting alcohol consumption has the strongest reduction in breast cancer risk. Therefore, it is highly advisable to consume no more than one drink per day. According to Everyday Health, “A standard serving of alcohol is considered 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or one and a half ounces of 80-proof spirits.”

3. Change your diet

Practicing intermittent fasting or taking extended breaks from food can provide bigtime health benefits. A 2016 study in JAMA Oncology found that breast cancer patients who kept their distance from food for 13 hours or more per day enjoyed a significant drop in recurrence risk compared to women who did not practice intermittent fasting.

The practice is as straightforward as allotting 13 hours or more between dinner at night and breakfast the following day. To do so successfully, try to stop eating by 7 PM and have breakfast at 8 AM to meet the study’s fasting requirements. If your day starts earlier or later in the afternoon, simply adjust your eating schedule to the most appropriate time.

4. Reduce stress

Battling breast cancer is a stressful experience in itself, and going into remission does not cancel out the stress involved in recovery. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, finding healthy ways to cope with stress improves overall survival. Therefore, it is crucial to find practical ways to deal with stress, which may include exercising, joining support groups, discovering new hobbies, massage therapy, meditation and yoga, mental health counseling, taking vacations, and many more. The idea is to find a stress-reliever that works best for your lifestyle.

5. Continue regular health screenings and medications

Since breast cancer can recur after remission, not only is it crucial to get regular mammograms, but also annual flu shots and other vaccinations, screening colonoscopies, pap smears, bone density scans, dental checkups, and other physical examinations by a primary healthcare provider. It is also recommended to test cholesterol and blood pressure levels to monitor risks for cardiovascular disease.

In addition to health screenings, it is also imperative to take endocrine therapy drug exactly as prescribed. When not taken as intended, breast cancer survivors risk less beneficial effects and may create other health concerns for themselves. If costs or undesirable side effects are a pressing matter, it is important to consult an oncologist. Many pharmaceutical companies offer financial assistance programs, and there are several ways to manage symptoms.

Conclusion

The battle with breast cancer does not end after remission. It is vital to make necessary changes to your lifestyle to ensure that you do not suffer from recurrence or a new form of cancer.  

If you are developing an obsession with every ache and pain in fear of your cancer returning,  make it a point to check with your cancer care team for symptoms of recurrence. If diagnosed with cancer, do not hesitate to contact New Hope at 480-666-1403 for alternative solutions and treatment recommendations.

Sources for Lifestyle Tips:

American Cancer Society

Johns Hopkins Medicine

Prevention

Everyday Health

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