Breast cancer is one of the commonest cancers among women in the world. Statistics indicate that breast cancer is more prevalent in developed countries such as the US, England and Australia than developing countries such as Nepal or Rwanda. The incidence of breast cancer also differs among ethnicity. For example, breast cancer is the most common cancer prevalent in African American women, but breast cancer rate is still lower in them as compared with white women.
However, irrespective of whether you are from a developed country or a developing country or your ethnicity, if breast cancer is diagnosed early, it will increase the chances of successful treatment.
AdvertisementBreast Cancer Symptoms and Diagnosis
If you are 50 or over 50 years of age, get breast screening done. But whatever age you are, feel your breasts and armpits, and look out for the following changes:
Lump in your breast or armpit
Consistent pain in your breast or armpit
Swelling under the armpits
One breast lower than the other one
Rash on nipples or discharge from nipples or change in the shape of the nipple
Dimpling in the skin of the breast
Not all lumps or swellings are cancerous. They may be benign. If you notice anything unusual, check with your ob-gyn as early as possible. If your doctor thinks your symptoms need further assessment, you will be referred to special breast clinic where you may have to get the following tests done:
Mammogram and breast ultrasound
If breast cancer is diagnosed, you will have to go in for breast cancer treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy and other treatments. Regardless of the type of treatment, you will need to take good care of yourself by eating healthy, getting sufficient rest to deal with fatigue, and exercise regularly.
Research has now confirmed that physical activity can improve survival after breast cancer diagnosis.
Physical Activity and Breast Cancer
The first scientific evidence that physical activity reduces breast cancer risk was provided three decades ago. Since then, the breast cancer research community has been researching on various aspects of physical activity associated with breast cancer risk reduction and also to improve breast cancer survival after diagnosis. For example, scientists are conducting trials to determine the exact type, dose, and timing of physical activity required to improve breast cancer survival.
A number of studies were undertaken globally to determine the exact dose of physical activity required to reduce breast cancer risk. The World Cancer Research Fund along with other international agencies recommended 4 to 7 hours per week of moderate to vigorous activity to substantially reduce the risk.
Benefits of physical activity in breast cancer
Physical activity after a diagnosis of breast cancer can help:
Improve quality of life
Assist with energy balance
One study reported that moderate exercise in the form of walking 3 to 5 hours per week at an average pace after being diagnosed with breast cancer can improve survival rates compared with more sedentary women.
Even home-based physical activity can have beneficial effects on fitness and psychological well-being of women undergoing breast cancer treatment.
So, how does exercising benefit breast cancer survival?
Exercising helps you maintain a healthy weight. Research shows that overweight or obese women, especially after menopause, increase their risk of breast cancer recurrence. This is because estrogen levels are high in obese women causing hormone responsive breast cancer to develop.
Regular exercise can boost endurance and help the lungs and the heart to function more efficiently. You will be less fatigued and have more energy.
Exercising can help you cope better with chemotherapy and radiation therapy by easing nausea and fatigue.
Breast cancer treatment can cause the formation of scar tissue that tighten and stiffen the muscles of arms and shoulders. Exercising can help you have better mobility and range of motions.
Physical activity triggers the release of brain chemicals such endorphins that make you more happy and relaxed. So you will feel less stressed.
Struggling with sleep at night or waking up often at night is quite common with breast cancer patients. Physical activity or exercising in any form can help you sleep better.
Chemotherapy and hormone therapy can cause muscle mass to decrease. Exercising, especially strength training, can ensure more muscle than fat. You will feel and be more fit.
Unfortunately, despite physical activity having so many benefits, a new study published in the journal Cancer revealed that only 35 percent of breast cancer survivors met the physical activity guidelines.
Researchers of the study, Briona Hair and her colleagues, noted that 59 percent of patients in their study reduced activity approximately six months after diagnosis which was equivalent to about five hours per week of brisk walking.
They also reported that compared to white women, African-American women were about 40 percent less likely to meet physical activity guidelines post-diagnosis.
'Medical care providers should discuss the role physical activity plays in improving breast cancer outcomes with their patients, and strategies that may be successful in increasing physical activity among breast cancer patients need to be comprehensively evaluated and implemented,' suggested the researchers.