Revealed: your best weapon against the return of breast cancer

Words of wisdom from our new nurse, Vivienne Maidens

Stopping breast cancer from spreading or coming back could save your life. So it’s really important to us that Kiwis know how to reduce their risk of this often invisible, but deadly development. Excitingly, recent research from the Odette Cancer Centre in Toronto, Canada, has revealed that the key may have been hiding in plain sight.


Or, more specifically, physical activity.

And it gets even better. Findings from the Canadian meta-analysis have shown that physical activity has the strongest effect on reducing the risk of breast cancer recurrence and death, even when compared to smoking cessation, losing weight or drinking less alcohol.

This is great news because upping your exercise is something that everyone can achieve. You don’t need expensive equipment or knowledge – it can be as simple as going for walk. There’s also a huge range of organised activities out there that you can get involved with. The PINC and STEEL Pilates programme is one, and it’s a great option for straight after your breast cancer treatment, then there’s a really strong breast cancer dragonboating community, too. Beyond that, the government has published some national guidelines aimed at the average fitness level, which provide some tangible criteria that you can use to make sure you’re making the cut.

There isn’t just one benefit of exercise, either. There’s endorphins, an increased sex drive and a clearer mind… it also helps to prevent weight gain – another red light when it comes to breast cancer. According to the Canadian study, if you’re overweight when you’re diagnosed, or you gain more than 10% of your bodyweight after diagnosis, you’ll have to put the extra effort in to reduce your risk of breast cancer mortality, or breast cancer-related death, and that’s a fact. Ideally, no one would end up there in the first place, but as a nation we are one of the heaviest in the world.

Of course there’s evidence for fine-tuning other lifestyle areas as well. A recent observational study which looked at 20,691 women with breast cancer, found that those who were smokefree were less likely to die from breast cancer than those who did have a smoking history.

Vitamins is another one of those ‘hot topic’ areas, but the science is lagging. The Canadian meta-analysis reviewed evidence for a relationship between vitamins C, E, D and multivitamins and breast cancer. Vitamin D (which forms in your skin when the sunlight hits it) was the only one that could reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back. How big an impact it has is still to be agreed upon, but its role in keeping bones strong and healthy means that vitamin D supplementation is worthwhile regardless. It’s particularly important if you’re post-menopausal, or if you’re taking aromatase inhibitors (like Letrozole), as both can affect your bone density for the worse.

Breast cancer is a complex disease, and there’s a lot about it that you can’t control. Yet, the science sits in favour of exercise, and often it’s the most affordable change to introduce into your life. If we’re going to stop Kiwis dying from breast cancer, then this is the best place to start. But it doesn’t have to be a chore – if Fitbits and activewear aren’t your thing, round up your kids and play tag on the playground. Turn it into a fun, sociable time and you’ll reap the benefits.

Nurse Vivienne Maidens is the newest member of our team of National Educators. She brings 24 years of experience with her, including her time spent in London’s Marsden Hospital and is a very welcome addition to the Foundation.

Tips For Getting More Active

1.Sit less, move more! Break up long periods of sitting.
2.Start as you’re able, then gradually begin to challenge yourself.
3.Do at least 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity (that makes you break a sweat) five days per week.
Do at least 25 minutes a day of vigorous physical activity (to the point where talking is hard) three days per week.
4.Do muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week
5.Doing some physical activity is better than doing none.

Get our top tips for healthy lifestyle during and after breast cancer here.