Is Exercise the Best Way to Keep Breast Cancer from Coming Back?

by Matt Weik

Cancer—one of those topics that hits home for just about every one of us. If you have never had a family member or friend battle cancer, I urge you to go play the lottery. While breast cancer specifically is more prevalent in women, men can get this form of cancer. The American Cancer Society has made some estimates for American’s in 2017, and the numbers are pretty scary.

They predict that 252,710 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017. Around 40,610 of them will die from this disease—that’s 16%. While screenings have helped many women, this form of cancer is still one of the leading causes of death for American women. In fact, it comes in second to lung cancer. On a brighter note, many women do not go down without a fight. Women are more proactive than ever with their screenings and self-checking at home. Because of the heightened awareness these days, medical technologies, and a woman’s will to fight to live and beat cancer, there are more than 3.1 million breast cancers survivors in America.

Exercise helps keep breast cancer at bay

It goes without saying how important exercise is for our overall health. So, what would make us think that if we wanted to give cancer the one-two punch that exercise wouldn’t be part of the strategy?

Researchers looked at a total of 67 published studies that looked at a variety of factors that led to women staying cancer free after winning their battle the first time. These factors ranged from if they were smoking after beating cancer, how often they exercise and their overall physical activity levels, their diet and what they were eating on a regular basis, and their weight during the period.

One researcher from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto has mentioned, “Of all lifestyle factors, physical activity has the most robust effect on breast cancer outcomes. Weight gain of more than 10% body weight after a breast cancer diagnosis increases breast cancer mortality and all-cause mortality. However, there are good reasons to discourage even moderate weight gain because of its negative effects on mood and body image.”

The authors of the research looking at how exercise can help prevent breast cancer from coming back in women who fought the fight and beat it before have laid out the following guidelines based off of their review of the previous studies:

• Avoid weight gain: weight gain during or after breast cancer treatment is linked to breast cancer-related death. Women who are overweight or obese at diagnosis also have poorer prognoses.
• Exercise: patients should engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, five days a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. Two to three sessions of strength training for large muscle groups are also recommended.
• Diet: no specific type of diet has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. Evidence indicates that patients do not need to avoid soy, and it may help with weight management if used to replace higher-calorie meat protein.
• Vitamin supplementation: moderate consumption of vitamin C may be helpful although more evidence is needed. Vitamin D supplements may be taken to maintain adequate levels for bone strength, since chemotherapy and hormonal treatments can reduce bone density.
• Smoking: stop smoking. While it is unclear if stopping smoking after a breast cancer diagnosis affects recurrence, the risk of death from smoking-related health issues is a strong reason to quit.
• Alcohol intake: limiting consumption to one or fewer alcoholic drinks per day may help reduce the risk of a second breast cancer.

It should be noted that while the above are guidelines, it does not mean the cancer will not come back. What the researchers are saying, is that if you follow those guidelines, you have the best chance of preventing the reoccurrence of breast cancer.

As one could imagine, hearing you have cancer can very well turn your life upside and drop you on your head. It’s fairly common for women who are diagnosed with breast cancer to close up and lose sight of beating the disease. Many of them find themselves slipping into a dark place in their life and for that reason many oncologists recommend exercise for these women. The psychological blow that women get from hearing the news they have cancer can be devastating. However, knowing they can still control their life through exercise can empower them to get in the fight and keep a good mindset.

If you, yourself, or someone you know has cancer, please share this article and research with them. If they aren’t currently exercising I encourage you to urge them to do so. Staying within a healthy body weight helps increase the chances of cancer not coming back. It appears that as weight creeps up, so do the chances of the cancer coming back. Survivors need to think of exercise not only as a way to kick their own butt into better shape, but also kicking cancer’s butt and not giving it an opportunity to come back.


1.) Canadian Medical Association Journal. “Exercise most important lifestyle change to help reduce risk of breast cancer recurrence.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 February 2017. .

2.) Julia Hamer HBSc, Ellen Warner MD MSc. Lifestyle modifications for patients with breast cancer to improve prognosis and optimize overall health. CMAJ, February 2017 DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.160464

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