General Guidelines

Certain lifestyle changes may help you manage your cancer and are important for overall quality of health.

High levels of estrogen have been linked to the development of breast cancer. For older women, the greatest exposure to estrogen is via postmenopausal hormone replacement. Estrogen replacement has been shown to reduce the onset of osteoporosis, as well as reduce numerous side effects associated with menopause. It has also been shown to reduce the likelihood of colon cancer. Therefore, you should have a frank conversation with your doctor as to the risks and benefits of estrogen replacement relative to breast cancer.

There is debate about the effects of phytoestrogens (plant-based estrogen compounds), such as soy, in the management of breast cancer. While there is conflicting evidence, one study found that eating soy (such as tofu, soy milk) may help to reduce the risk of death and recurrence of breast cancer in women who have had the condition. If your diet already contains a large amount of soy, ask your doctor if this is the right diet for you. Also, before taking any herbs and supplements, you should first talk to your doctor. Soy supplements, for example, can interfere with other medications that you are taking.

Other lifestyle factors may also increase your exposure to estrogen. If possible, try to limit these factors:

  • Being overweight after the age of menopause
  • Consuming alcohol
  • Not exercising

Being overweight—particularly after menopause—may increase your chances of developing breast cancer. This is due to the fact that after menopause, most of the estrogen in a woman’s body comes from her fat tissue. The more fat on the body, the higher the degree of estrogen.

Studies have shown that women who drink 2-4 alcoholic drinks daily have a 40% greater risk of developing breast cancer than nondrinkers. This might be due to the fact that alcohol can alter the way a woman's body metabolizes estrogen. This may cause blood estrogen levels to rise, increasing the risk of breast cancer onset.

Smoking increases your risk of several cancers, including breast cancer.

Exercise helps maintain weight and modulates high levels of estrogen. Its favorable effects on the immune system may inhibit cancer growth. Overall, exercise has many benefits. For example, if you are undergoing radiation therapy, participating in a yoga program may help to reduce depression, anxiety, and stress. Researchers have also found that getting involved in an exercise routine and, in some cases, pairing that with cognitive behavioral therapy may improve your quality of life. Talk to your doctor about the right program for you. If you are interested in working with a therapist, your doctor can give you a referral.