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Lifestyle Measures to Reduce the Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence

Karen Alexander, Licensed Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

October 27, 2020

For breast cancer survivors, finishing the cancer treatments doesn’t mark the end of their journey with the disease. It is the beginning of a new normal, where lifestyle choices can improve future outcomes. 

5 Protective Lifestyle Measures That Can Reduce Your Risk of Recurrence

Eat a Plant-Based Diet

Research shows that breast cancer survivors who follow a plant-based diet (a diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, chicken, and fish) tend to live longer than those eating a Western diet. The gold standard of the plant-based diets is the Mediterranean diet, due to its proven anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Being cautious about your alcohol consumption aids in breast cancer recurrence prevention (see below for more information).

Eat a diet very low in fat:

Studies suggest that postmenopausal women who reduce the fat consumption to 20% of their total calories a day have a lower risk of dying from breast cancer. Reducing your fat intake improves relapse-free survival by 24% in postmenopausal women with breast cancer than women following a standard diet. The risk of recurrence for women with ER-negative breast cancer decreased by 42%.

Follow the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans:

Following the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans can reduce your risk of recurrence and loss of life from cancer. 

A recent study found that compared to women who do not meet the minimum federal exercise guidelines, women who meet the guidelines before and after breast cancer treatment had:

  • 55% lower risk of breast cancer recurrence 
  • 68% lower risk of loss of life

Women who started exercising after breast cancer treatment had:

  • 46% lower risk of recurrence 
  • 43% lower risk of loss of life. 

For more information about the Federal Guidelines for Physical Activity for Americans, visit

Try to maintain a healthy weight:

The risk of breast cancer recurrence and loss of life increased with body weight in premenopausal and postmenopausal women. Here we will discuss only two plausible reasons: 

  • On the other hand, mammary glands in women with excessive body fat overproduce aromatase, an enzyme that converts androgens to estrogens. Higher levels of estrogen can worsen the prognosis in women with ER-positive breast cancer. 

Know the benefits and risks of supplements:

Supplements can be very beneficial, but in many cases, they should only be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional or naturopathic doctor. According to the ACS, AICR, and AND, no dietary supplements (including vitamins, minerals, and herbal products) have been shown to clearly help lower the risk of breast cancer progressing or coming back.  A new research study even shows that taking certain supplements while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer may do more harm than good. Below are the findings of the SWOG study.

  • Taking antioxidants (vitamins A, C, and E; carotenoids; coenzyme Q10) both before and after chemo increases the risk of breast cancer recurrence by 41% and the risk of loss of life 40%.  
  • Taking antioxidants only before treatment or only during treatment did not affect the risk of recurrence or loss of life.
  • Taking iron supplements both before and during chemotherapy increases the risk of having a recurrence by 91%.
  • However, taking a regular multivitamin did not change survival outcomes (risk of loss of life).
  • Taking omega-3 both before chemotherapy and during chemotherapy increases the risk of recurrence by 67%.
  • Taking vitamin B12 both before chemotherapy and during chemotherapy increases the risk of recurrence by 83% and doubles the risk of loss of life.

Further research is needed on many controversial topics, such as the safety of alcohol consumption and dairy products, among others. If you want to stay updated on new research and findings, visit the AICR.

The recipe of the week is a festive recipe that is perfect for the fall and winter months. It comes via the AICR:

Farro Pumpkin Fritters


– 2 cups canned pumpkin

– 1 tsp. chili powder

– 3/4 cup cooked farro

– 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)

– 1 egg

– 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

– 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

– 1/2 tsp. salt

– 2 tsp. ground cumin

– 1/4 cup olive oil

Nutrition Facts

Makes 4 servings (2 fritters each). Per serving: 160 calories, 2 g total fat (.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans-fat), 35 mg cholesterol, 31 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 6 g dietary fiber, 340 mg sodium, 4 g sugar.


– In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except oil.

– Heat oil in a large skillet at medium-high heat.

– Scoop ¼ cup portions into the skillet, pressing down gently to form a flat round shape; cook 4-5 minutes until edges start to brown and rise from the pan. Flip and cook another 4-5 minutes or until browned on both sides.

– Serve warm or at room temperature.


You may need additional flour when combining ingredients. Aim for brownie batter consistency.

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