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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Breast Cancer Recurrence: What You Should Know

When women quit breast cancer treatment early, they take a big risk.

Lifestyle Changes to Improve Your Chances

Taking your medication every day is an important step in reducing risk. If you have trouble remembering, set up reminders and a routine, doctors advise. Place sticky notes at strategic spots. Take your pills at the same time every day (like breakfast). Mark a calendar when you take your pills. Use pill boxes to organize your medications. Ask people to remind you to take them. Set an alarm on your cell phone or pager.

What else can you do to lessen your risk of recurrence? Exercise and eating right is known to reduce breast cancer risk in the first place. A handful of studies suggest that lifestyle also affects recurrence, Pegram says. "These are things women can do to empower themselves, take control, make an impact in reducing recurrence."

Exercise: Several studies of different types of cancer have suggested that high levels of physical activitycan help lower risk of cancer recurrence. One study showed that women who exercise after breast cancer treatment lived longer and had less recurrence. "The exercise was the equivalent of 30 minutes brisk walking four days a week," Pegram says. "It clearly cut their risk of recurrence by about one-half. It was really extraordinary."

Low-Fat Diet: One large study showed that, with a strict low-fat diet, a group of postmenopausal breast cancer survivors cut their recurrence risk. The study involved more than 2,400 women, all with early breast cancer. Those who cut their dietary fat from 29% to 19% of their total calories were about 21% less likely to have a recurrence or die over the next six years, compared with women who continued eating their typical foods.

Just remember, nothing is certain, Vogel says. "Just like taking pills, a healthy lifestyle doesn't guarantee it won't recur. It may make it less likely. But you have to be realistic about your expectations."

Follow-Up: Watching for Recurrence

Once treatment has ended, it's important to stay in contact with your oncologist and surgeon.

Get Regular Exams. Oncologists typically follow patients every three months during the first two years, then every six months after that. During this time, women should have regular mammograms, even if they had a mastectomy, says Vogel.

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