Everyone can benefit from a healthy lifestyle. For breast cancer survivors, some healthy behaviors may lower the risk of breast cancer recurrence and improve survival. Other healthy behaviors have not yet been shown to impact breast cancer survival, but are part of a lifestyle that may help protect against other cancers and diseases.
A healthy lifestyle includes:
Maintaining a healthy weight is important for everyone, but it is especially important for breast cancer survivors.
For breast cancer survivors, being overweight increases the risk of [44-47,51]:
Weight gain after breast cancer diagnosis may also increase these risks [48-51].This means heavier women and those who gain more weight after diagnosis are more likely to have their breast cancer return and more likely to die from breast cancer or other cause compared to thinner women and those who gain little or no weight.
Breast cancer survivors with higher body weight may have higher blood hormone levels than thinner survivors [52-53]. Higher blood hormone levels increase the risk of developing breast cancer and may explain the increased risk of breast cancer recurrence and death among postmenopausal survivors who are overweight .
Learn more about estrogen and the risk of developing breast cancer.
Learn more about prolactin and the risk of developing breast cancer.
Learn more about insulin and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) and the risk of developing breast cancer.
Being overweight and gaining weight also increase the risk of other health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. Regular exercise and eating a healthy diet are the best ways to maintain a healthy weight. For more information on weight control and exercise, visit the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Learn about body weight, weight gain and the risk of developing breast cancer.
At this time, we do not fully understand how diet affects survival after breast cancer. Although increased body weight and weight gain appear to reduce survival, studies on dietary factors such as fat, fiber, fruits and vegetables have had mixed results [54-59].
For example, findings from the Women's Intervention Nutrition Study showed reducing dietary fat intake may improve disease-free survival (survival without a recurrence) . Women in this study who reduced their fat intake also lost weight, which may have played a role in their improved disease-free survival . Other studies have not shown a survival benefit from a diet low in fat after treatment [57-59].
Breast cancer survivors should try to follow the same healthy diet that is recommended for everyone . This diet, outlined below, promotes overall health and may help protect against different types of cancer and other diseases [60-63].
Adapted from the American Cancer Society’s Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Survivors .
For a summary of research studies on dietary fat and breast cancer survival, visit the Breast Cancer Research section.
For a summary of research studies on body weight and breast cancer survival, visit the Breast Cancer Research section.
For a summary of research studies on alcohol and breast cancer survival, visit the Breast Cancer Research section.
Being physically active is one of the best things you can do for your health. It helps you maintain a healthy weight and lowers your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes .
Some studies suggest being active lowers the risk of [37-42]:
Researchers often use MET (metabolic equivalent) hours to assess the total amount of activity a person gets. The more energy an activity requires, the higher its MET score. For example, one MET hour is the energy used to sit quietly for one hour, but walking for an hour scores from 2 ½ to 4 ½ MET hours (depending on how quickly you walk). More vigorous activities, like playing tennis, biking or swimming for an hour, score higher. Adding the MET scores of different activities gives a total number of MET hours.
A pooled analysis that combined data from over 13,000 breast cancer survivors found that those who got 10 or more MET hours of activity a week (roughly three or more hours of moderate paced walking) had a 30 percent lower risk of death (from any cause) compared to less active survivors .
Some findings suggest women do not need to do intense exercise to get a benefit. One study found activity equal to a 30-minute brisk walk several times a week improved survival .
The American Cancer Society’s Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Survivors recommend breast cancer survivors :
For a summary of research studies on physical activity and breast cancer survival, visit the Breast Cancer Research section.
Physical activity offers other benefits for breast cancer survivors. It can [65-69]:
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Lymphedema (LIMF-eh-DEE-ma) is a condition where fluid collects in the arm (or other area such as the hand, fingers, chest or back) causing it to swell (edema). It usually occurs in the areas of the body that had surgery and radiation therapy. In the past, there was some concern that exercise might increase the risk of lymphedema in breast cancer survivors and worsen symptoms in those who developed the condition. However, arm exercises (such as weight-lifting) do not appear to increase the risk of lymphedema in survivors [70-72]. Moreover, studies now show weight-lifting (in a supervised research setting) can reduce symptoms in survivors with lymphedema, as well as improve body image, sexuality and physical strength [72-74]. Talk to your health care provider before starting an exercise program to manage lymphedema.
Learn more about lymphedema.
There is growing evidence that smoking decreases survival for women with breast cancer. A pooled analysis that combined data from about 10,000 survivors found that smoking increased the risk of recurrence and death from breast cancer . The more women smoked, the higher these risks . Moreover, smoking doubled the risk of death from any cause for survivors .
For a summary of research studies on smoking and breast cancer survival, visit the Breast Cancer Research section.
Stopping smoking, or never starting to smoke, is one of the best things you can do for your health. Smoking causes :
For smokers, it’s never too late to benefit from quitting. The risk of heart disease goes down very quickly after stopping smoking and over time, the risk of lung and other cancers can drop to near that of someone who never smoked . Talk to your health care provider about ways to quit.
Although it can be hard, there are many resources for smokers who want to quit. These include:
American Cancer Society – Guide to Quitting Smoking www.cancer.org/Healthy/StayAwayfromTobacco/GuidetoQuittingSmoking/index American Lung Association – Freedom from Smoking www.ffsonline.org National Cancer Institute’s Free Help to Quit Smoking www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/tobacco/smoking 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848) National Cancer Institute’s Smokefree.gov www.women.smokefree.gov State Tobacco Quit Lines1-800-QuitNow (1-800-784-8669) U.S. Department of Defense – Quit Tobacco www.ucanquit2.org
Learn about smoking and breast cancer risk.
Making healthy lifestyle choices has benefits at any age. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a well-balanced diet, being more active, stopping smoking (if you smoke) and becoming more aware of your health can be physically and mentally rewarding at any point in life.
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