Recover Survivorship Preventing Breast Cancer Recurrence
Being called a "survivor” implies that you have beat or conquered something, or “won a battle.” In some cases, overcoming breast cancer can be a battle, whether it’s surviving treatment or managing your life after treatment.
As a breast cancer survivor, you may wonder if the battle ever really is over. Will you always be cancer free? What will you do if you have a recurrence?
Unfortunately, the truth is that anyone who has had breast cancer is at risk for recurrence. Several factors influence the recurrence rate. Usually, if a woman’s breast cancer was detected at an early stage and localized to the breast, there is a 20 percent to 30 percent risk for recurrence. If it is detected after the breast cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and beyond, the recurrence rate then rises to between 30 percent and 60 percent. Recurrence rates also depend on the breast cancer cell type -- whether it’s estrogen receptor positive -- and a woman’s initial response to treatment.
The American Institute for Cancer Prevention recommends the following for preventing a breast cancer recurrence:
- Be as lean as possible. Being overweight increases your risk for a breast cancer recurrence for a variety of reasons. In addition to putting a strain on your heart and immune system, fat cells produce and store estrogen, which has been linked to breast cancer.
- Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day, for instance, walking 3 to 5 hours each week. According to a study in the May 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the risk of death for breast cancer patients decreased by 50 percent when they added exercise to their daily routine.
- Avoid sugary drinks. Limit consumption of energy-dense foods.
- Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes such as beans. Eat fewer foods that contain hormones and pesticides. These include beef, pork and lamb, cheese and other milk products. Also, avoid processed meats.
- Reduce your intake of fat. A study conducted by the University of California at Los Angeles showed that a low-fat diet reduced the recurrence rate of breast cancer in women who limited their daily fat intake to 33.3 grams, the equivalent of just more than 1 oz. of fat.
- If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to 1 a day. According to Breastcancer.org, alcohol has been linked to a higher recurrence rate in breast cancer survivors.
- Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt (sodium).
- Don't rely solely on supplements to protect against cancer. Take breast cancer chemoprevention medications. Drugs such as tamoxifen, raloxifen and aromatase inhibitors block the effects of estrogen on breast tissue or disrupt estrogen production, which reduces the risk of breast cancer recurrence in women with BRCA2 mutations.
- Get tested for the BRCA gene mutation. Only women with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer need to undergo this genetic test, according to the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force.
- After menopause, avoid using hormone replacement therapy. This includes oral, topical and transvaginal medications. If you must take estrogen replacement medications, make sure to take progesterone supplements at the same time. Progesterone may decrease the risks that estrogen poses to the breasts.
- However, limit or avoid the use of estrogen- or progesterone-based pills for perimenopausal or postmenopausal symptoms (hot flashes, irritability, vaginal dryness). These may increase the risk of recurrence. With vaginal creams, gels and rings, the hormones are generally confined to the genital area. But these medications can be absorbed into the bloodstream and travel to the breasts.
- Ask your doctor about taking bisphosphonate zoledronic acid to reduce your risk of breast cancer recurrence. This medication is traditionally used to maintain bone density in cancer patients, but studies presented at the 2005 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology look promising.
- Try brachytherapy, a procedure that uses radiation to target lingering cancer cells in the breast following a lumpectomy. The procedure involves placing a catheter into the breast with an inflatable balloon attached to the end. A radioactive source is then placed into the catheter, according to the University of Virginia Health System.
- Undergo preventive surgery to reduce breast cancer recurrence. While a bilateral mastectomy cannot eliminate the risk of a recurrence, it can reduce the risk by as much as 90 percent. Preventive surgery to remove the ovaries may also reduce breast cancer risk and the risk of recurrence by as much as 50 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.
Essentially, managing your overall health and wellness, eating healthy foods, engaging in regular physical activity and reducing stress are vital elements in preventing breast cancer recurrence and increasing the chance of survival. Also, minimizing your exposure to risky environmental factors such as cancer-promoting chemicals – especially through your diet -- and carcinogens minimizes your risk of recurrence.
From a natural and holistic standpoint, it is beneficial to have insight to your biological make-up, i.e. your constitution, or your dosha. According to Ayurvedic philosophy, which is the “science of life,” your dosha, essentially, is the pattern of your biological system. Ayurveda is the art of healthy living by using techniques that relate to self-knowledge and self-care.
You can determine your dosha and learn how to possibly make adjustments to your life to continue your healing process and recovery from breast cancer treatment. Once you know your dosha, you can understand the choices you can make to nourish your mind, body and spirit in order to prevent recurrence.
The combination of diet, lifestyle and medicines plays an important role in the prevention and treatment of breast cancer. There are certain guidelines in Ayurveda that are necessary to be followed to keep you healthy and in balance. According to Ayurvedic philosophy, any diet or lifestyle factor that disturbs your body’s metabolism can cause cancer. So, it’s important to eat to give your body what it needs to heal and protect itself.
Ayurveda takes a different approach to achieving good health than what you are probably accustomed to. It looks at the “whole person” to eliminate the cause of disease through natural therapies. Ayurvedic philosophy purports that you can improve your health and prevent serious illness by making simple dietary and lifestyle changes, incorporating purification techniques into your daily routine that restore balance to your body and digestive system.
These resources provide more detailed information to help you learn more about how to prevent breast cancer recurrence:
Living Beyond Breast Cancer's Guide to Understanding Fear of Recurrence
Susan G. Komen - If Breast Cancer Returns
LIVESTRONG.COM - How to Prevent Breast Cancer Recurrence
For more information on preventing recurrence, go to Resources. You can share your knowledge and experience with other survivors at Survivor Tips or start a discussion in our Partner Forum.