Healthy Lifestyle Habits After Breast Cancer Surgery

hand holding breast cancer ribbon( — As many as 2.3 million American women have survived breast cancer or are living with breast cancer after surgery or other treatment. Most cancer survivors want to do everything they can to recover from surgery. If you are one of these women, you need to know nutrition and exercise can play a key role in regaining optimum health.

What To Eat To Ease Symptoms

Nausea and vomiting are common after surgery. They are especially common if you’ve also had chemotherapy or radiation. Other symptoms after surgery include a loss of appetite or desire to eat, and “wasting syndrome” called cachexia. This is a wasting away of muscle, organ tissue, and other lean body mass. It’s often accompanied by weight loss and weakness.

Here are some ways to ease symptoms of nausea after breast cancer treatment:

• Eat several smaller meals throughout the day instead of three big meals.
• Try protein shakes, yogurt, and liquid protein drinks when solid foods cause you to feel sick.

• Try simple soups, such as chicken with vegetables and broth, if nausea is an issue.

What To Eat To Aid Healing

Good nutrition is also associated with a better chance of recovery from cancer. After breast cancer surgery, your body needs more than its usual supply of protein. It needs it to repair cells, fight infection, and heal incisions. Right after surgery, boost your protein intake without worrying about calories. It will aid your healing and help you regain your strength. If you need to lose weight, you can focus on that after your post-op recovery.

Here are some ways to increase your protein intake:

• Add protein powder or dry milk to dishes to boost their protein level.
• Add grated cheese to vegetables, potatoes, rice, and salads to increase protein and calories.

• Add high-protein snacks such as almonds, peanuts, and cheese to your diet.

What To Eat To Prevent Recurrence

• Phytochemicals. “Phyto” means plant — are chemicals found in plant foods. Some phytochemicals have been studied for their potential anti-cancer benefits and their ability to prevent recurrence.

• Soy. Soybeans contain phytoestrogens. These are weak estrogen-like compounds. Soybeans (also called edamame), tofu, soy milk, and miso soup all contain these phytoestrogens. Some researchers think they can help protect against the kind of breast cancer that depends on estrogen for its growth. Experts agree that more research is needed to fully understand the role phytoestrogens might play in preventing breast cancer recurrence. In the meantime, ask your doctor whether eating a moderate amount of soy foods — one to three servings a day — is advised for you. It’s possible it may interfere with hormone therapy or some other treatment. There is a link between estrogen levels and breast cancer growth. But how various hormone therapies, surgery, phytoestrogens from foods, and recurrence of cancer are all related is, as yet, far from understood.

• Antioxidants. Many vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other foods contain antioxidants. Examples of specific foods with antioxidants include broccoli, liver, and mangos. Antioxidants protect your cells from damage from “free radicals.” These are atoms or groups of atoms thought to trigger cancer growth. Dietitians advise eating a balanced diet with a variety of fresh foods to provide antioxidants. That’s better than taking high “megadoses” of vitamin C, vitamin E, or other antioxidants.

• Beta-carotene. Beta-carotene gives carrots, apricots, yams, and other orange-colored vegetables and fruits their color. Results of studies examining the relationship between breast cancer and beta-carotene are inconsistent. But there are some studies that suggest that a diet high in beta-carotene-rich foods may reduce the risk of death from breast cancer.

• Lycopene. Lycopene is what puts the red in tomatoes and the pink in pink grapefruit. It might also help prevent recurrence of breast cancer in some women. Studies haven’t shown a consistent benefit, though.

An Anti-Cancer Diet?

Here are some guidelines you can use for planning an anti-cancer diet. You might also want to consider consulting with a registered dietitian. The dietitian can give you more personalized advice on the best diet and nutrition plan for your condition.

• Choose low-fat protein, such as roasted chicken and baked fish, rather than steak, duck, sausages, or other high-fat meats.

• Try to eat five servings of a wide variety of vegetables and fruits each day.

• Avoid or eliminate processed meats linked to cancer. This includes meats such as bacon, bologna, hot dogs, ham, and smoked meats.

• Choose whole-grain products like whole-wheat bread and brown rice, rather than white bread and white rice.

• Cut back or eliminate alcohol. Limit yourself to one to two drinks a day at most.

Exercise After Breast Cancer Surgery

Exercise has long been known to improve self-esteem, elevate mood, and create a sense of personal mastery and well-being. Exercise after breast cancer surgery is no exception. In addition, studies have shown a link between being overweight and breast cancer recurrence. So losing weight through exercise may help you restore your health and improve your outcome.

Fatigue often lingers for some time after surgery. It may even be more pronounced if you’ve also had chemotherapy and radiation. Still, most experts advise some form of regular exercise, even if you start with short walks around the block. Exercise can actually boost your energy. And recent studies suggest that exercise after breast surgery can lower the risk of cancer recurrence.

Ideal Post-Treatment Exercises

1. Talk with your doctor before starting. For the first days and weeks after breast cancer surgery, focus on protecting your incision. Also focus on protecting any other tender areas from bumping and bruising. Avoid carrying children or heavy groceries. Once your doctor gives you clearance to begin exercising, some precautions may apply. Consider seeing a physical therapist experienced with breast cancer. The therapists can help you improve your range of motion, strength, and flexibility in the affected arm and shoulder after surgery.

If you had a lumpectomy to remove a breast lump, or surgery to remove part of your breast (a segmental mastectomy), exercise precautions are usually minimal.

If you had surgery to remove the lymph nodes under your arm, you’re at higher risk of lymphedema (swelling of the arm). This is especially true if you receive radiation. That’s because fluids can’t drain normally from your affected arm. Lymphedema can occur any time after surgery or radiation. You’ll need to protect your arm from injury. You may also need to avoid exercises such as tennis, running, and some styles of yoga that use your arms for some time after surgery.

If you had a mastectomy, you may have more precautions than women who have had a breast-conserving surgery that removes less tissue. Also, if you go on to have breast reconstruction surgery, you may face several surgeries to finish the full reconstruction of your breast and nipple. That may mean you’ll be restricted from exercise for a longer period of time.

2. Choose an exercise you enjoy. The best exercise for you is the one you’ll stay with and enjoy — and one that’s safe, given your type of breast cancer surgery. Start with brisk walking. Or try using a stationary bike so you can sit upright without leaning on your arms. Other exercises that don’t require you to put weight on your arms include tai chi, qigong, or gentle yoga. Later, add more vigorous exercise that uses your arms more. For example, you might try running, swimming, cycling, hiking, more vigorous styles of yoga, and other aerobic exercise.

3. Work up to 30 minutes, five days a week. Progress slowly and safely in the months following surgery. Eventually, you may be able to work up to the American Cancer Society’s general guidelines for cancer prevention — unless your doctor has advised against it based on your age or medical condition.

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