Lifestyle Approaches to Breast Cancer

One of the most common questions I get when treating a breast cancer patient (or any other cancer patient for that matter) is “What can I do to treat this?”.  It is also the question that we physicians may not have time for after explaining the diagnosis and treatment options.

However, this is an important question.  Patients want to be involved and accountable for their disease.  Families also want to help.  Getting a cancer diagnosis can be terrifying and make one feel helpless.

I remember when my own father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, we all wanted to find holistic options to supplement his care.  Well-meaning friends were offering special ionic water, home grown foods and even breast milk to try and help in anyway they could.  My mom installed an infrared sauna, we hired energy healers, we did family therapy and my dad went to various trainers, kinesiologists, and physical therapists.  At the time, these things seemed to help my dad through his recovery even if we didn’t have the science behind it, and we all felt like we were doing something.

However, this is a great area of research today, and patients can now find proven options to help with treatment or prevention.

Most patients want to be healthy and prevent diseases.  It turns out that there are many studies showing benefits of diet and lifestyle changes in prevention and treatment of cancer, including breast cancer.

In order to understand these benefits, we must first understand that cancer causes cell damage.  Lifestyle modifications are used to prevent cell damage, help with side effects of medications and reduce risk.


When medical treatment is supplemented with yoga for breast cancer in order to address the patient’s symptoms, the quality of life of the patient generally improves. Therapeutic Yoga, Gentle Yoga and Restorative Yoga have all been proven to show significant benefits for the patient, while addressing the side-effects caused from breast cancer treatment. Relief from symptoms after surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, lymphedema etc. is a wonderful advantage of practicing yoga as a supplement to therapy. Regular practice of yoga poses along with meditation encourages breast cancer survivors to remain balanced and accept their condition.

Breast Health Yoga with Jaci Stempski at GRACE Yoga Studio,

Breast Health Yoga with Jaci Stempski at GRACE Yoga Studio

I regularly practice yoga for my own quality of life.  Yoga is a wonderful balance of the mind and body.  It allows me to feel strong, to feel flexible and allows calm to come into my mind. 

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I also use meditation in my daily life to calm racing thoughts, find purpose and achieve focus. It took me awhile to get comfortable with this and learn to quiet my mind. My sister introduced me to Jill Lemke who teaches meditation and I slowly worked on developing a daily practice that worked for me. To help get you started, here are some tips from my life coach (yes my sister is my coach) and Jill. 

Healthy Diet

A healthy diet filled with antioxidants can also help. Making good choices at the grocery store isn’t a magic bullet, but research suggests it may help. In fact, an article published in the American Society of Clinical Oncology 2015 Education Book estimated that changes to eating and exercise habits could prevent 25 to 30 percent of cases of breast cancer. And while there’s no official consensus yet on the specific foods a cancer-prevention diet should include — or how much of those foods you should eat — diets full of whole grains, fiber, and fruits and vegetables have been linked to reduced risk.

Grab your own copy of Chef Lori’s Breast Cancer Prevention Recipes. It’s full of delicious and flavorful recipes that you’re sure to love!

In the end, exercise and diet may even play a greater role than weight management in breast cancer prevention. Overweight women who exercise 150 minutes a week and eat lots of fruits and veggies have a lower risk of breast cancer than normal-weight women who are sedentary and have a low intake of fruits and vegetables, according to leading nutritionists.

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