Exercise: The most important intervention to help reduce risk of breast cancer

For patients with breast cancer, physical activity and avoiding weight gain are the most important lifestyle choices that can reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and death (Canadian Medical Association Journal). The following study found that women who had a weight gain of greater than 10% were more likely to die from breast cancer. It also had negative effects on mood and body image.

Here is a check list of what you can do to reduce the risk of cancer, or the impact of cancer on your life?

Weight management

  • Weight gain during or after breast cancer treatment increases the risk of recurrence and reduces survival.

  • Patients who are obese or overweight at breast cancer diagnosis have a poorer prognosis.

Physical activity

  • Physical activity can reduce breast cancer mortality by about 40% and has the most powerful effect of any lifestyle factor on breast cancer outcomes.

    At least 150 minutes per week of physical activity is recommended.


  • Western-style diets (high in processed grains, processed meats and red meat) and prudent diets (high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and chicken) have similar rates of breast cancer recurrence.

  • Dietary saturated fat, especially from high-fat dairy products, may be associated with increased breast cancer mortality.

  • Soy products may actually reduce breast cancer recurrence.


  • Recent evidence has shown a strong association between a history of smoking and breast cancer mortality.

  • Compared with women who continue to smoke after a breast cancer diagnosis, those who quit smoking after diagnosis have higher overall survival and possibly better breast cancer–specific survival.

Alcohol intake

  • Findings are too inconsistent to conclude that alcohol consumption affects breast cancer outcomes. However, limiting alcohol consumption to one or fewer drinks per day reduces the risk of a second primary breast cancer.

Vitamin supplementation

  • Moderate increases in dietary vitamin C or oral supplementation may reduce breast cancer mortality. (Not yet confirmed by randomised trials)

  • Vitamin E supplementation is not associated with breast cancer outcomes.

  • Low levels of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D at diagnosis have been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer mortality. (Not yet confirmed by randomised trials)

(Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2017)


Journal Reference:

  1. 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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