I’m a Breast Cancer Survivor, How Can I Reduce My Risk of Future Cancers?

When you’ve been through breast cancer and have weathered the storm of diagnosis and treatment, it’s normal to want nothing more than to climb back ashore and reclaim your former life.

Many cancer survivors, however, harbor a profound fear about what the future may hold: they worry about their cancer coming back or about finding a different type of cancer that would place them once again in the middle of treatment.

One way to regain a feeling of control over your body after the chaos of breast cancer is to take steps to reduce your risk of future cancers. Though there are some risk factors that you can’t control, such as your genes or the number of children you’ve already given birth to, there are three major risk factors that you can actively address to keep your cancer at bay.

1. Achieve and Maintain a Healthy Body Weight

Though fighting obesity is a major component of good health for all people, staying lean also reduces your risk for breast cancer. Experts recommend that your body mass index (BMI) stay between 19 and 25, and that you should avoid excess weight gain at any age.

Though losing weight can be challenging, even a five-to-10-percent reduction in your overall body weight can reduce your risk of breast cancer as well as diabetes, another serious risk factor for the development of breast cancer.

2. Increase Your Physical Activity

A sedentary lifestyle in which you spend most of your time sitting at your desk, in your car, or in front of the television or other screen-based entertainment devices (phones, tablets or computers) is a significant risk factor that you can control.

Increasing your physical activity will protect you from cancer and help you maintain a healthy weight. Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week (or a combination of these), preferably spread throughout the week.

However, for maximum health benefits, scientists recommend that we aim for 60 minutes or more of moderate activity every day, or 30 minutes or more of vigorous activity.

But what types of activities are considered moderate or vigorous?

  • Moderate activity is something you can do while carrying on a conversation, such as walking or a bicycling.
  • Vigorous activity can be taking an aerobics class, running or other high-cardio activities.

In addition, strength training using resistance bands or weights will help you build and maintain muscle mass. You should also limit the time you spend sedentary by taking the stairs, parking farther from the building or getting off the bus at a different stop to increase your activity on a regular basis.

3. Improve Your Diet

Adding healthy foods to your diet will help you keep your weight in check and add these cancer-fighting nutrients to your body:

  • Fruits and vegetables:
    Try to eat about 2 1/2 cups (five to nine servings) of fruits and vegetables every day. Choose a variety of colorful fruits and veggies to get a good balance of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals to protect against cancer.
  • Whole grains:
    Add a serving of whole grains to your diet each day to boost your cancer protection at a cellular level.

There are also certain foods that increase your risk for cancer. Avoid these foods in your diet:

  • Processed foods:
    Highly processed foods are loaded with sugar, fat and salt. Salty foods, in particular, have been linked with stomach cancers.
  • Sugary foods and drinks:
    Energy-dense foods lead to weight gain and blood sugar spikes that are bad for your overall health. Though sugar doesn’t “feed” cancer, obesity and diabetes are definite risk factors.
  • Red meats or processed meats:
    Limit your intake of beef, pork and lamb to once per month and avoid processed meats like bacon, cold cuts and ham at all costs. The link to colorectal cancer is simply too strong to ignore.

Final Thought

By watching your weight, staying active and sticking to a plant-based diet, you can take control of your health and feel good about doing all you can to lower your risk for future cancers.

We are here to help.

If you have questions about the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute or are ready to schedule a consultation with one of our specialists, call us at 202-295-0513 or click the request a consultation button.

What Is Cancer Rehabilitation and How Does It Help?

For cancer patients, and their loved ones, there is a lot focus placed on the present moment. What courses of treatment make the most sense for them? How will their diagnosis change their life? Will they need to take time off from work? Can they even plan for the future, or is their life now on hold?

But what about the unknowns that are beyond the scope of treatment administration? How will cancer patients experience potential side effects? Will they be able to resume their daily lives, unimpeded? What will their lives look like after treatment?

In short, what will their cancer rehabilitation process look like, and when should it start?

What Is Cancer Rehabilitation?

Cancer rehabilitation helps patients address many of the challenges they experience beyond the treatment of their cancer. For example, bouts of pain or fatigue when attempting to complete daily tasks, difficulty speaking or swallowing, or mobility and balance issues. And according to Eric Wisotzky, MD, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist who directs the MedStar National Rehabilitation Network’s Cancer Rehabilitation Program, early intervention in this regard can be critical.

“We can identify issues that are likely to cause problems in the healing process and prevent many from occurring,” Dr. Wisotzky says.

The ultimate goal of cancer rehabilitation is to maximize every opportunity to enhance a patient’s ability to get back to their lives, their job, their family and their priorities. More specifically, cancer rehabilitation can help a patient gain endurance and mobility, in addition to what may feel like their lost sense of independence.

What Should a Cancer Rehabilitation Program Look Like?

The most successful cancer rehabilitation outcomes are achieved when it is integrated into both treatment and survivorship plans and include:

  • Comprehensive, interdisciplinary rehabilitation services (physiatry, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech language pathology)
  • Individualized treatment plans
  • Pretreatment assessments (if indicated) and patient education
  • Post-treatment assessment and follow up
  • Lymphedema (swelling) management services
  • Exercise and fitness programs
  • Pain management
  • Nutrition counseling
  • Prosthetics and orthotics

At the MedStar National Rehabilitation Network, the rehabilitation program may begin with a pretreatment assessment, which covers the current health status of a patient, as well as their functional needs and goals. A multidisciplinary rehabilitation team then supports patients with actionable insights to help prevent a decline in function.

After treatment, patients are closely followed for the development of functional deficits. Once identified, patients are again referred for rehabilitation services to minimize side effects of cancer treatment and to help patients continue their work, family and recreational roles.

Cancer Rehabilitation Empowers Patients

A cancer diagnosis, even with the most positive outlook, is still both emotionally and physically disruptive. However, a multidisciplinary approach that includes cancer rehabilitation can make all the difference, when it comes to improving quality of life.

Ideally, patients will come out of their cancer treatment experience with the tools to live an even healthier life than before their diagnosis. Cancer rehabilitation can be a springboard to helping patients improve their general fitness. “We can empower patients to do the things that will keep them as fit and functional as possible throughout the process and beyond,” Dr. Wisotzky says.

Through these interventions, we hope that our patients can not only survive the cancer treatment process, but thrive into the future.

We are here to help.

If you have questions about the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute or are ready to schedule a consultation with one of our specialists, call us at 202-295-0513.