5 Tips to Help Lower Your Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence
Updated: Nov 26, 2022
If you have had breast cancer, it is only natural to want to explore any changes you can make to your diet and lifestyle to help reduce the risk of cancer coming back. The good news is that research shows there are several things you can do to help reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. Aiming to be a healthy weight, taking regular exercise, and eating well are important steps that you can take to lower your risk, as well as help to protect you from other health problems such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
In addition to these clinical benefits, making changes to your diet and lifestyle is a positive step forward and can help you feel more in control. I encourage my clients to keep changes simple and realistic to avoid overwhelm and ultimately, build steps towards a healthy, nourishing, and sustainable diet and lifestyle.
This month is breast cancer awareness month UK, so I thought it would be great to discuss this topic in support of people with breast cancer and to raise awareness to those that don’t know much about it. In this article, I will share a few simple diet tips that you can implement straight away!
If you have (or have had) breast cancer and are looking for someone to help you with a personalised diet and lifestyle plan for cancer prevention, get in touch with us today at The Cancer Dietitian.
Aim to be a healthy weight
A large body of published clinical research has demonstrated a consistent association between obesity and increased risk of breast cancer recurrence. Obesity has also been linked to reduced long-term survival from breast cancer. Additionally, being overweight is associated with a higher risk of getting lymphoedema (a build-up of fluid in the tissues which causes swelling in the arms).
Many women find that they have unintentionally gained weight during breast cancer treatment, and this can be frustrating and disconcerting. There are various reasons for weight gain at this time, such as chemotherapy and other treatments that can precipitate menopause (and weight gain can be a symptom of this), drugs such as steroids (which are often given with chemotherapy treatment), hormonal therapies, and reduced activity levels.
It is important to note that weight management is much more than about how many calories we consume and how much energy we expend. Our genetics, our environment, our physical and mental health, sleep, stress levels, digestive health and more play a part. Taking a ‘whole person’ approach to achieving healthy weight loss is vital.
Aiming for steady weight loss and avoiding rapid weight loss means you are likely to lose muscle mass, not just fat, which is not good for your health. Rapid weight loss is associated with metabolic changes, a weakened immune system, nutrient deficiencies, and reduced quality of life.
Be physically active as part of your everyday life
Among breast cancer survivors, studies have found a consistent link between physical activity and a lower risk of breast cancer recurrence. Being physically active is also associated with a lower risk of dying from breast cancer, as well as a lower risk of dying from any cause.
Regular physical activity helps to manage your weight, balance hormone levels, strengthen the immune system, improve bone health, reduce stress, reduce fatigue and the list goes on!
If you are able, aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week. If you can do more, even better! Finding an activity you enjoy, like dancing or an exercise class with friends, makes exercising more fun and easier to stick to.
Physical activity may lower the risk of lymphoedema or improve lymphoedema for women who already have it, and exercise is safe and encouraged for people with lymphoedema when performed in the right way.
If you are not exercising regularly, begin by introducing short chunks (10 to 15 minutes) of gentle activity, such as walking, and build up slowly until you reach your target. Remember that any exercise is better than no exercise!
As with other types of lifestyle changes, it is important to talk with your treatment team before starting a new physical activity program. Your team can advise what level of activity is appropriate for you and help signpost you to additional support.
There is no specific diet that everyone should follow to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. Rather, several dietary patterns which appear beneficial. This is ideal as it allows flexibility around navigating the information and implementing things in a way that works in your life.
The core theme is to increase your consumption of whole, plant foods e.g., fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. This will ensure a diet that is low in saturated fat, high in fibre, rich in phytochemicals (which prevent oxidative damage to cells), vitamins and minerals, stabilise blood sugar levels, and supports healthy weight management. A plant-based diet also helps to reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. You don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian to get the benefits of including more plant foods in your diet.
If you are still battling with side effects following cancer treatment e.g., digestive issues, loss of appetite, or any other health concerns, the following advice may not be appropriate – seek specialist cancer nutrition advice.
Let’s talk about The Cancer Dietitians' best tips to lower your risk of breast cancer recurrence. Please let us know your thoughts by commenting, let’s talk about breast cancer awareness month UK!
1. Reduce saturated fat
Examples of foods high in saturated fats include pies, pastries, hard cheese, fatty cuts of meat, processed meats (e.g., bacon, sausages, chorizo, luncheon meats, hot dogs), butter, chocolate bars, shop bought cakes and biscuits.
Switch butter for a spread of avocado, or a drizzle of cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
Choose lean cuts of meat and don’t eat red meat frequently
Grate hard cheese to make a small portions go further
Switch processed meat for sliced chicken breast, or even better, oily fish such as salmon or mackerel (tinned oily fish is a good choice too!)
Replace a chocolate bar with a handful of homemade trail mix – a variety of nuts, seeds, and a little bit of dried fruit and/or pieces of dark chocolate
2. Increase fibre
Fibre-rich foods such as whole fruit and vegetables, whole grains, seeds, peas, beans, and lentils support your health in different ways. Benefits include feeding healthy gut bacteria, helping to reduce inflammatory processes, reducing blood sugar spikes after meals, reducing oestrogen levels, and improving cholesterol levels.
Stock the freezer with frozen fruit and vegetables so they are easily available, and you can take out just what you need, reducing waste
Replace biscuits as snacks with apple wedges and nut butter or oatcakes and hummus
Keep a jar of mixed nuts and seeds in your fridge – sprinkle on yoghurt, porridge, and cereals, or add to a smoothie
Replace white pasta with legume-based pasta e.g. red lentil
3. Avoid sugary drinks and sodas such as cola, lemonade, and energy drinks
These drinks contain ‘empty’ calories i.e., they have no nutritive value, contribute to weight gain, and can set you on a blood sugar ‘rollercoaster’.
Try muddling some fresh or frozen berries in the bottom of a glass and add still or sparkling water
Make up a herbal tea like ‘very berry’ and drink it cold
Infuse water with cucumber, mint, orange, lemon, or orange
Dilute a small amount of fruit juice in a tumbler of still or sparkling water
4. Include whole soy foods in the diet e.g., edamame beans, tofu, tempeh, miso, natto, soya milk, and soya yoghurt
Research suggests that including a moderate amount of whole soy foods in the diet is not only safe during and after breast cancer treatment, but eating in this way may also help to reduce the risk of breast cancer returning. This includes women with hormone-sensitive breast cancer and those on Tamoxifen. It is recommended to avoid soy supplements.
Edamame beans make a nourishing and tasty snack
Replace some (or all meat) in recipes with soybeans
Add miso to salmon or make a miso soup with tofu
Here is a lovely recipe for edamame falafel wraps https://www.thecancerdietitian.com/post/edamame-falafel-wraps-by-cassie-best-bbc-good-food
5. If you choose to drink, limit your alcohol intake
Studies have shown that drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing breast cancer. Whether alcohol affects the risk of breast cancer coming back is not as clear.
To mitigate risk, experts recommended avoiding alcohol consumption altogether. This must be a personal choice, and if you choose to drink, aim to limit your intake to no more than 3-4 units a week.
Try kombucha (a mildly fizzy, fermented drink made from tea) instead of wine
Lucky Saint, Heineken and Brew Dog make great no-alcohol and low-alcohol beers and lagers
Seedlip, Pentire Drinks, CleanCo and Three Spirit Drinks make great non-alcoholic spirits and elixirs
‘Set your intentions’ before you leave the house, for example, I am not going to drink tonight, or I will only have one drink tonight. Planning ahead can help you to stick to your guns!
Thank you for reading our blog ‘5 diet tips to help lower your risk of cancer recurrence’. Please comment with your thoughts, let’s talk about breast cancer awareness month UK together.
If you would like support and encouragement to put these recommendations and more into practice, please get in touch with us at The Cancer Dietitian for a consultation. I would be delighted to help you.
T: 020 8064 2865