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
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
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,