Diet and Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Breast Cancer Recurrence

Breast cancer recurrence is a concern for many survivors. That concern is not baseless because you might have heard stories of other breast cancer survivors who have seemingly fought a successful battle against breast cancer, only to find themselves in the same battle once again. 

While medical treatments are essential, research shows that diet and lifestyle changes can play a significant role in reducing the risk of recurrence. Learning about these aspects that you can personally control, can both be beneficial not just in lowering your risk of recurrence but also improving your life in other areas such as social well-being and mental health.  

Dietary Changes

A balanced diet is crucial for overall health and can specifically aid in reducing breast cancer recurrence. Proper nutrition provides essential nutrients that can strengthen the body's defenses, enhance overall well-being, and improve the effectiveness of cancer treatments. Here are the basics to food choices for an overall healthier life:

Foods to Include

  1. Fruits and Vegetables: Rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, fruits and vegetables should form the foundation of your diet. Aim for a variety of colors to ensure a wide range of nutrients.
  2. Whole Grains: Incorporate whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, and oats. These provide essential fiber, which can help maintain a healthy weight. High-fiber foods are essential for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. Dietary fiber, particularly soluble fiber, acts as a prebiotic, providing nourishment for beneficial gut bacteria.
  3. Lean Proteins: Include sources of lean protein such as fish, chicken, legumes, and tofu. Protein is vital for tissue repair and immune function.
  4. Healthy Fats: Opt for fats from sources like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. These fats are beneficial for heart health and can help reduce inflammation.

Read more: Breast Surgery Nutrition: A comprehensive guide to healing and wellness.

Foods to Avoid

    1. Processed Foods: Minimize intake of processed foods that often contain unhealthy fats, sugars, and preservatives.
    2. Sugary Drinks: Reduce consumption of sugary beverages, including soda and sweetened juices, as they can contribute to weight gain and insulin resistance.
    3. Excessive Red and Processed Meats: Limit red meat and avoid processed meats like sausages and bacon, which have been linked to higher cancer risks.
  • Trans fat: Not all fats are healthy. Trans fats are artificially created through the hydrogenation of vegetable oils and are commonly found in processed foods, baked goods (pie crusts, doughnuts, pastries), and margarine. 

Specific Dietary Patterns

  1. Mediterranean Diet: Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. This diet is associated with numerous health benefits, including reduced cancer risk.
  2. Plant-Based Diets: Diets rich in plant foods and low in animal products can be beneficial. They are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals while being lower in calories and unhealthy fats.

Lifestyle Changes

Adopting healthy lifestyle habits is equally important in reducing breast cancer recurrence. Even if you already have a good diet, if it is not paired with a healthy lifestyle, you will still find yourself missing out on improving your overall health. 

A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of cancer recurrence by promoting weight gain and obesity, leading to hormonal imbalances, insulin resistance, and chronic inflammation, all of which create an environment conducive to cancer growth. Lack of physical activity weakens immune function, increases oxidative stress, and negatively impacts mental health, reducing the body’s ability to fight off cancerous cells and diminishing treatment efficacy. 

Read more: 6 Lifestyle changes to Stay Healthy After Cancer

Regular Physical Activity

Engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. Activities like walking, swimming, and cycling can help maintain a healthy weight and improve overall health.

The Power of Walking

Walking is one of the simplest and most effective forms of exercise. It’s accessible, doesn’t require special equipment, and can be easily incorporated into daily routines. Regular walking has numerous benefits, including:

  1. Weight Management: Walking helps burn calories, which can contribute to maintaining a healthy weight—a key factor in reducing cancer recurrence risk.
  2. Improved Cardiovascular Health: Walking strengthens the heart and improves circulation, which can reduce the risk of heart disease.
  3. Mental Health Benefits: Walking can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. The rhythmic nature of walking can have a meditative effect, helping to clear the mind and improve mood.
  4. Enhanced Immune Function: Regular physical activity like walking can boost the immune system, helping the body to fight off illnesses and infections.

The whole idea of walking is not in a way that you treat it like some gym routine, rather that you adjust your usual habits to involve being on the move instead of just sitting down or laying on the couch. Listening to a podcast? Go for a walk. Just finished eating? Take a casual post-meal stroll. Even going to the mall and window shopping could already be beneficial if it gets you moving! Just avoid the unhealthy temptations at the food court. 

Limiting Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol can increase the risk of breast cancer recurrence. Limit intake to no more than one drink per day, or avoid it altogether if possible. It’s easy to forget the dangers of alcohol once one becomes complacent or overconfident after the worst is seemingly over.

Avoiding Smoking

Smoking is linked to numerous health issues, including an increased risk of cancer recurrence. Seek support to quit smoking if needed. If you are living with someone who smokes, avoid second-hand smoking or prevent yourself from placing yourself in a room where you inhale their smoke.

Just because you aren’t a smoker, doesn’t mean you are completely free from those who smoke near you. 

Additional Tips

  • Regular Medical Check-ups: Stay on top of your health by attending regular check-ups and screenings. Many patients achieve good outcomes, especially with early detection and personalized treatment approaches. 
  • Building a Support System: Connect with friends, family, or support groups to share experiences and gain encouragement. Even if you find yourself strong in body, the weakness can start from the mind if you are in constant isolation.
  • Staying Informed and Educated: Keep up with the latest research and recommendations for breast cancer survivors. Science is always updating and there are several new and helpful pieces of information that can be both informative and hopeful. 

Making sustainable diet and lifestyle changes can significantly impact your health and reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. By focusing on balanced nutrition, regular physical activity, and healthy habits, you can take proactive steps towards a healthier future. Incorporating simple activities like walking, along with a nutritious diet and mindful lifestyle choices, can create a powerful strategy for maintaining wellness and preventing recurrence. Always be hopeful! Every woman is a warrior in the battle against Breast Cancer.

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