Lifestyle Matters: Specific Recommendations

Healthy behaviors for specific cancer types

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

Lifestyle impacts different cancers differently. While healthy diet, regular exercise and ideal weight generally improve the outlook for most cancer warriors, current research offers specific advice for specific types of the disease.

In this installment of Lifestyle Matters we look at these research-based recommendations for men and women living through and beyond breast, colorectal and prostate cancer.

This series is based on the recently published American Cancer Society Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines for Cancer Survivors, which summarizes the latest findings on lifestyle choices.

Breast cancer dancers

Weight is the key issue for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Achieving and maintaining a normal weight remains the absolutely best thing a woman can do to thrive today and for many tomorrows.


Here's the skinny on weight and breast cancer:

  • Being overweight or obese before and after diagnosis is very common, but not good.
  • Carrying too many pounds increases the risk of lymph node involvement and lymphedema (swelling of the arm closest to the involved breast).
  • A higher body mass index (BMI) of 25+ is also associated  with life-threatening events, such as cancer appearing in the other breast, recurrence and shorter lifespan.
  • According to the Nurses' Health Study, increasing BMI by .5 to 2 units following treatment pumps up the likelihood of recurrence by 40 percent, compared to those who didn't gain weight.
  • With increases of more than 2 units, the risk of recurrence expands to 53 percent.
  • The same study found that women who lost weight following treatment "did not experience significantly poorer outcomes." Translated - losing weight helps improve outcome.

Now there are plenty of flaws relating to the BMI scales. So it's important for anyone affected by breast cancer to work closely with their healthcare providers to determine an ideal weight and come up with plans for achieving those numbers.

Even small losses help

Having many pounds to shed can feel - and in fact is - a daunting task. The good news is that even modest weight loss - of say 5-10 percent - over six months to a year helps.

Recent reviews of scientific literature find that small to modest amounts of weight loss improve breast -cancer specific factors, including circulating estrogens and inflammation.

Review Date: 
May 20, 2012