What No One Tells You About Post-chemo Weight Gain

Mar 1, 2017 at 11:00 a.m. ET
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On top of everything else, many women who have undergone chemotherapy after a breast cancer diagnosis may find themselves gaining weight. On average, a woman will gain 10 to 12 pounds and may have to exercise more than she did (prior to the diagnosis) in order to maintain a healthy weight.

Doctors have found there are a variety of factors at play for the added pounds, including a slower metabolism as a result of chemotherapy. But regardless of the reasons why some women gain weight, the point remains: Weight gain and inactivity are both harmful to women battling and recovering from breast cancer.

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And now, new research focuses on the exact role physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight play in reducing the risk of cancer recurrence and death.

"Of all lifestyle factors, physical activity has the most robust effect on breast cancer outcomes," writes Dr. Ellen Warner, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Ontario, with coauthor Julia Hamer. "Weight gain of more than 10% body weight after a breast cancer diagnosis increases breast cancer mortality and all-cause mortality.”

So why exercise? Well, the review authors found it can reduce a breast cancer recurrence by 40 percent. And as an added bonus, exercise has also been shown to help the depression, fatigue, lymphedema (swelling in the arm caused by removing lymph nodes) and stress that might accompany diagnosis and treatment.

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This is great news for women who are ready to incorporate lifestyle changes to help in the fight against breast cancer. And getting started is easier than one might think. Walking outside or on a treadmill, participating in a low-impact cardio/strength training class, swimming, cycling and bodyweight exercises that can be done at home are all great ways to meet the recommended guidelines for exercise.

And as far as how much and how often? Researchers suggest that women engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, five days a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week and participate in two to three sessions of strength training each week.

More: Why Breast Cancer Deaths Are Down 42 percent in the U.S.

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