Breast Cancer & How Physical Activity Can Prevent Diagnosis and Ease Treatments

by GregP_WN

With 1 in 8 women being diagnosed with Breast Cancer each year, breast cancer is the second most common cancer found in women. Although there are several preventative measures that can be taken, anyone with breasts is at risk of developing the disease in their lifetime.

Breast Cancer Risks

Who is at Risk of Breast Cancer?

There are many factors that increase a person's risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. For example, women over the age of 55 tend to be diagnosed more often, but younger women are still at risk and frequently diagnosed as well. If a woman has an immediate, first-degree family member that has been diagnosed, the risk of development is multiplied by 5. If two immediate family members are diagnosed, the risk then triples. With that being said, 8 out of 10 women that are diagnosed have no family history of the disease.

If a woman began menstruation early, such as age 12, or if a woman went through menopause after the age of 55, they are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer. This is due to longer exposure to the hormones released by the ovaries, estrogen and progesterone, which have been studied to leave women at risk of breast cancer. These are just a few of the uncontrollable factors that leave women at risk of developing breast cancer. Making sure that yearly mammograms are attended, especially after the recommended age of 40, is very important for women who are at high risk due to these causes.

On top of those uncontrollable factors, there are several controllable elements that women can take preventative measures for to prevent the development of breast cancer. For example, women who are heavy drinkers are found to be diagnosed more than those who limit themselves. Avoiding alcohol or controlling your intake to only two drinks per week can decrease the risk of a breast cancer diagnosis. Additionally, women who use various methods of hormonal birth control, such as oral contraceptives or IUDs, are also found to have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Interestingly enough, the American Cancer Society reports that studies have shown a link between the use of hormone-releasing pills and IUDs and a breast cancer risk, but minimal research has been performed when looking into birth control implants, patches, and rings and the risk of breast cancer. If a woman stops taking hormonal birth control for 10 years or more, her risk of developing breast cancer is reduced to what it was prior to the contraceptives.

Lastly, postmenopausal women who are obese or overweight have a higher chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer due to more fat tissue leading to higher estrogen levels. Pre-menopausal women that are overweight or obese are at a lower risk of developing breast cancer than a postmenopausal woman, but most cases of breast cancer are diagnosed after a woman has already been through menopause. Weight gain before menopause is not recommended as any weight gained at that time can be carried into post-menopause, drastically increasing the risk of breast cancer development. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regime is highly recommended as a way of preventing the development of breast cancer. Not only that, but it is encouraged throughout treatment if one does get diagnosed with breast cancer.

Exercising to Prevent Breast Cancer

Bring It On Life

Women who have gained more than 21 pounds after the age of 18 have a 40% higher risk than women who only gain 5 pounds after the age of 18. This is why exercise is strongly encouraged for those who are at risk of the development of breast cancer, which happens to be every woman. Being overweight leads to higher estrogen levels in the body and because estrogen stimulates cell-overgrowth, it can lead to the formation of malignant tumors in the breasts. The ovaries are the producers of estrogen in women before the onset of menopause, but afterward, the ovaries stop the production of estrogen and it turns into fat. The less fat on a postmenopausal woman, the less estrogen stored and the less of a risk of breast cancer. Exercising can burn fat, which will lead to a decreased risk of breast cancer development. Women who increase their physical activity after menopause decrease their risk of developing breast cancer by 12%.

Physical Activity During Breast Cancer Treatment

There are many sources that say exercising during breast cancer rehabilitation and treatment has a positive effect on patients. There are a few recommendations on activities to do during treatment to help a patient battling breast cancer to stay active and healthy. Yoga and physical therapy are two of the most popular and most commonly prescribed, as they are both calming and restoring for patients.

Yoga is a favorite amongst those battling breast cancer because it is extremely effective as well as low-impact, so it won't add more unnecessary and potentially harmful stress to the body. Studies show that yoga can help improve the quality of life for patients with breast cancer by aiding in the improvement of sleep quality, reducing fatigue, and improving physical function in the body. Before including yoga in a treatment plan, doctors will often take into consideration the risk of lymphedema (when the lymph nodes are removed and the circulatory and immune systems are blocked) in the patient, as some poses can be harmful for patients at risk. Another thing to consider before including yoga in a patient's treatment plan is if the yoga teacher has experience working with those who have suffered from breast cancer, as they will know safe and healthy poses as well as have other tips for at-home stretches. Speak with your doctor if you wish to include yoga in your treatment plan to see if yoga is safe and right for you.


Physical therapy is another commonly recommended method of physical activity that doctors will prescribe. Some doctors will even prescribe this method before surgery in order to prep the patient's body for surgery as well as get their body used to the exercises physical therapists will have them doing during rehabilitation. During prehabilitation, the time period after diagnosis and before treatment, doctors may recommend physical therapy to assess the measurements of the patient's body, identify pre-treatment weaknesses in the body, educate about lymphedema, and to come up with an exercise plan for pre- and post-surgeries.

Post-treatment and surgery, some women do not have any lasting effects that require physical therapy. But some doctors still recommend it as a way to ease back into regular fitness routines from before diagnosis. Physical therapy after breast cancer treatment can help with the treatment of lymphedema, regular exercise, postural training, and manual therapy- which helps with restricted motion, pain, and swelling.

Mom And Daughter With Breast Cancer

If you or a loved one has been recently diagnosed with breast cancer, or currently are receiving treatment and want to include more methods of physical activity into your treatment plan, talk to your doctor right away and discuss what will work best for you. Always stay up-to-date on current health and safety news to stay educated on preventative measures, as it could help you or a loved one.

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