While there’s no way to guarantee that breast cancer will never come back, medical oncologist Amy Tiersten, MD shares how taking steps to stay healthy may also help prevent breast cancer recurrence.

Exercise has definitely been proven to reduce risk of breast cancer recurrence. Exercising as little as 30 minutes of walking 5 days a week substantially lowers risk of recurrence.

Adopting a lower fat diet (more chicken and fish than red meat) and avoiding sugary processed foods may help lower the risk of recurrence.

But really, food should be enjoyed — and everything is OK in moderation.

There’s a misconception that the soy in foods like tofu or edamame may increase risk of recurrence, but actually, the opposite is true. However, I would not recommend soy supplements — only consume soy in food sources.

Studies have shown that maintaining a moderate weight after diagnosis may decrease risk of recurrence.

For the most part, if you follow a well-balanced diet, vitamins and supplements are not needed.

But you may need to take a calcium and D supplement if you have bone loss. Some of the anti-estrogen medications can cause bone loss.

There is data that alcohol use increases the risk of developing breast cancer. But there is no good data that alcohol after a diagnosis definitely increases risk of recurrence.

That being said, I generally tell people with breast cancer to be mindful and moderate alcohol use.

Managing stress is important for overall quality of life, but hasn’t specifically been proven to reduce risk of recurrence.

That said, I hate to see people who are extra stressed about their stress, because they worry it will bring the cancer back. Try stress-management techniques like exercise, which can help with managing stress while also reducing your risk of breast cancer recurrence.

Ask your oncologist about your individual risk of recurrence. You may be surprised to hear that it is not as high as you think it is. We do, after all, cure the majority of breast cancer these days.

Go to your appointments, report side effects of medication so you can be helped, and keep up with your screenings. For example, some people assume they just have to live with estrogen deprivation symptoms that some of the medications we prescribe may cause. But lots can be done to relieve symptoms such as:

  • vaginal dryness
  • joint pain
  • hot flashes

Don’t be afraid to discuss these things with your oncologist — it’s their job to help you. Also, never hesitate to report any new symptom you are concerned about.

Sometimes seeking counseling to help manage fear of recurrence can be helpful.

Dr. Amy Tiersten is an ABMS board certified medical oncologist specializing in breast and gynecologic cancers. She is a professor of medicine and the clinical director of breast medical oncology at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.