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Breast Cancer Survivors: Nutrition and Fitness Tips

Eat foods that are cancer-protective to help prevent a recurrence, and get back into exercise to lose extra pounds.

Go for a Diet Rich in Plant Foods, Fish, and Lean Protein continued...

What about soy? Some researchers once thought soy could be a cancer cure-all. Then, doctors became concerned that the phytoestrogens in soy might pose a risk for women whose tumors were estrogen receptor-positive.

"At this point, it doesn't look like there's any tremendous protection, or any tremendous harm, from a moderate amount of soy in your diet as a breast cancer survivor," says Polk. "If you like soy, go ahead and enjoy it-in moderation. I stress that because there are some women out there eating soy milk three times a day, having a soy burger for lunch and tofu for dinner and soy nuts for a snack. That's not moderation."

Remember, says Polk, there's no one magic food. "In fact, we're beginning to see evidence that phytochemicals and other cancer-fighting ingredients work together, synergistically," she says. "It may not be the lycopene in tomatoes or the folate in spinach by themselves, but a whole variety of elements that work together as a team to help fight off disease."

That means take it easy on the supplements. "Many cancer survivors are very anxious to get hold of any possible supplements or special pills or potions that may help them to ward off cancer in the future," says Polk. But, she says, studies find that consumers are getting a lot of inaccurate information about supplements, their capabilities, and their ingredients from health food stores. "It's important to get information from your physician, a registered dietitian, or another reliable source before deciding to take supplements or special products."

You can find nutritional guides for cancer survivors at:

  • The American Institute for Cancer Research (
  • The American Cancer Society (

After Breast Cancer: Getting Back into a Fitness Routine

Now, what about exercise? You're probably ready to be more active, and you may even have gained some weight, probably somewhere between five and 30 pounds during breast cancer treatment. Just one example: A study presented to the 11th Annual Research Conference on Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer in 2001 found that about a third of women gain weight after three months of chemotherapy, and more than half gain weight after six months.

The reasons are complicated, according to Marisa Weiss, MD, a leading oncologist and founder of

First, you're probably getting less exercise during breast cancer treatment than you usually do, she says. Second, if you haven't gone through menopause already, chemotherapy is likely to put you in at least temporary "chemopause," slowing down your metabolism. Many of the drug cocktails that oncologists use to help fend off nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy include steroids, which can also "pump you up" in ways you don't want.

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