Exercise May Reduce Risk of Relapse for Breast Cancer Survivors

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Breast cancer affects a shocking number of women. Those who recover from the disease are prone to relapse, so it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The most important aspect, according to a recent review, is exercise.

Credit: Chris McCormack/Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

New scientific studies show that exercise can be the most important lifestyle change for breast cancer survivors. While the reason why remains unclear, the benefits of exercise in these women can prevent mortality by up to 40 percent. This is a staggering statistic, as approximately one quarter of women who experience a breast cancer relapse will die as a result.

Ellen Warner and Julia Hamer, of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, Canada, compiled research from over 67 published journals and articles to find the deciding factors in mortality and health for breast cancer survivors in the case of a relapse. While more than 90 percent of women do get an early diagnosis, one quarter of them will eventually suffer death from metastasis, which is the spreading of cancer to other parts of the body.

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In order to prevent these deaths from happening, there are certain habits and behaviors which show a direct correlation to better health in the long term. For example, exercise and weight gain play large roles in the health of breast cancer survivors when it comes to relapsing.

“Of all lifestyle factors, physical activity has the most robust effect on breast cancer outcomes,” says Warner. “Weight gain of more than 10% body weight after a breast cancer diagnosis increases breast cancer mortality and all-cause mortality.”

Several lifestyle factors were taken into account in their review, such as diet, smoking and exercise. While some of these factors showed no conclusive results, it was apparent that exercise can offset the side effects of medical treatments while providing a host of physical and mental benefits.

“Making positive lifestyle changes can also be psychologically beneficial to patients by empowering them, since the feeling of loss of control is one of the biggest challenges of a cancer diagnosis,” Warner writes.

Related: Study Says Social Support Can Increase Breast Cancer Survival

Breast cancer affects around one in every eight women, making 12 percent of the female population likely to develop this disease. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it is one of the most common forms of cancer to be diagnosed, second only to skin cancer.

While the authors admit that the findings of their review were somewhat inconclusive, they continue to research different lifestyle changes that can prevent relapse or reduce the risk of death in these cases. However, some cases are especially aggressive and do not respond to these changes. It is always important to see the advice of a medical professional before attempting a new exercise program, especially for those who are currently or formerly diagnosed with breast cancer.

Marissa DiPietro
Marissa is a health and fitness writer from the Tampa Bay area. In addition to researching the latest trending topics, she enjoys instructing kickboxing classes and posting incessantly to her Instagram account.