By Amy McSweeney - October 10, 2022
There are many breast cancer risk factors that are beyond our control: age, race and ethnicity, personal history and family history. But there are some things that we can modify, like eating healthy, avoiding alcohol, exercising and maintaining a healthy well-being. Dr. Aixa Soyano, assistant member of the Department of Breast Oncology at Moffit Cancer Center, discusses some healthy tips for people currently diagnosed with breast cancer.
1. Maintain a healthy diet.
While there aren’t any proven diets or specific foods that can help prevent cancer or alleviate the side effects of treatment, we do know that a balanced diet can help increase energy, maintain average body weight and lower your risk of cancer. So, that's why I usually recommend patients maintain a diet high in fruits and veggies, low in fat and with decreased intake of processed meats and sugary drinks.
2. Reduce Alcohol Consumption.
While we know that alcohol, even in small quantities, is linked to breast cancer risk, we don't know exactly how much is safe to drink. That’s why we recommend patients not drink alcohol, especially during treatment, or limit their consumption to no more than one drink a day.
3. Maintain a good activity level.
We try to encourage our patients to maintain their activity levels by incorporating an exercise routine if they can. Moderate to high intensity physical activity between 30 to 60 minutes a day has been shown to decrease your breast cancer risk. I tell my patients who are already routinely exercising to try to maintain it. Exercise can help overcome fatigue that can come with treatment. It's about balance, like everything in the body, because exercise can increase endorphins and make you feel good and increasing adrenaline can give you energy throughout the day. For those patients who don't normally exercise, start with small steps. You don’t have to start training for a marathon when you start treatment! Instead, try to incorporate at least 30 minutes of some type of exercise a day.
4. Find your healthy well-being.
Everyone is different and everybody's going to find their well-being in different ways. Meditation or yoga might not be for everybody but try to find something that gives you pleasure. People like myself like to exercise, so that is my well-being. For others, it's getting a massage and embracing that disconnection. Try to find something during treatment that makes you feel well and takes your mind off your disease. Some patients ask if they can work during treatment. I think that depends; for some, work and living life as normal as possible can be very therapeutic, but for others, it might add some stress. I counsel patients individually and it’s important that they find something that helps them through the journey.
5. Decrease Smoking.
While smoking in general might not necessarily impact breast cancer risk, it can increase the risk of multiple other cancers. Most breast cancer patients will need surgery, and smoking decreases the ability to heal after surgery. Not smoking is an essential part of our well-being.
6. Ask Questions.
When you’re diagnosed with cancer, you hear everyone’s opinions on what you should and shouldn't do. I usually encourage patients to discuss if that is helpful or unhelpful in their situation because every breast cancer patient is different. Breast cancer is very complex and has multiple subtypes, so some things may only apply to certain types of breast cancer. There is a lot of information, and we usually try to cover a lot during our visits. But if we can't, we recommend patients write their questions down so we can revisit them on an ongoing basis.
7. Stay Vigilant.
Undergo your screening mammograms every year. If breast cancer runs in your family, it is essential to know about your breast health and report changes to your healthcare provider. For a small minority of patients, there are types of surgery and medications that can help decrease breast cancer risk.