Does lifestyle affect outlook for women with breast cancer?
Dr. Ellen Warner, a clinician-scientist in the Odette Cancer Research Program at Sunnybrook Research Institute, led a review to identify which lifestyle changes can be recommended to women with breast cancer to reduce risk of recurrence and improve overall health. The study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
The researchers analyzed data from 67 research studies and reviews that looked at the role of weight, exercise, diet, smoking and alcohol intake on the prognosis of women with breast cancer. Physical activity had the strongest effect on outcomes, reducing risk of death from breast cancer by about 40%. In contrast, weight gain during or after treatment raised the risk of the cancer’s return and reduced survival. The researchers also found women who ate a Western diet, which is high in processed grains and red meat, had similar rates of recurrence to women whose diets were high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean meat. There was no evidence that eating soy products or taking vitamin E was harmful. Women who quit smoking after a diagnosis of breast cancer had higher overall survival than those who did not do so.
In conclusion, they emphasized that while protective, a healthy lifestyle cannot always improve outcomes for women with an aggressive form of the disease. Patients should not be made to feel that a subsequent bout of cancer was due to insufficient lifestyle changes, the researchers said.