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Breast Cancer and Weight Changes

Are there specific risks that come with weight gain or weight loss?

Weight gain can increase your risk for developing high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Being overweight also puts you at risk for developing other types of cancers. Research has also shown that being overweight can raise your risk of recurrence of breast cancer.

Can diet help maintain a healthy weight during breast cancer treatment?

Women receiving chemotherapy should eat a well-balanced diet that consists of fruit, vegetables, dairy products, breads, poultry, fish, and lean meat. A diet low in total and saturated fat can lower your risk of heart disease as well as breast cancer recurrence. Proper nutrition can help you tolerate side effects of chemotherapy as well as fight off infection. Healthy nutrition lets your body rebuild healthy tissues more quickly.

It's important to get enough protein in your diet. This will help build and repair skin, hair, muscles, and organs damaged during the treatment. An added benefit to a protein-rich diet is that it may increase the effectiveness of exercise. That means it can aid in weight loss.

You may also need to drink extra fluids to protect your bladder and kidneys. These organs can be damaged during treatment.

How important is exercise in breast cancer treatment and in maintaining a healthy weight?

Exercise promotes good overall health. But before beginning any exercise program, you should consult your doctor.

Breast cancer patients are often encouraged to exercise. That's because it can reduce the side effects of nausea and fatigue. It can also boost your level of physical energy. One study found that exercise after chemotherapy might boost infection-fighting T cells.

Even moderate amounts of physical activity may help breast cancer survivors live longer. Just three to five hours a week of a moderate physical activity such as walking can decrease your chance of dying of breast cancer.

Strength training is also recommended. It can help rebuild body mass and increase your strength. The loss of lean body mass associated with breast cancer tends to occur in the lower body. So emphasizing that area during strength training can be beneficial. You need to take care when doing heavy weight lifting on the upper body. That's because lymphedema -- arm swelling -- is a common concern during breast cancer treatment.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Sujana Movva, MD on October 25, 2012

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