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5 Tips for Living Healthy While Battling Breast Cancer

By DR. DENNIS CITRIN

When people hear "live a healthy lifestyle" they generally think of diet and exercise. But living healthy doesn't begin and end there. When fighting a serious illness like breast cancer, the treatments themselves can take a physical and emotional toll on the body.

Living healthy

Patients should look beyond the basics of diet and exercise to nurture their bodies and gain strength. Here are five tips I share with my breast cancer patients. Many of them apply to other illnesses too, so read on and see how you can make simple changes to live healthier:

1. Mental Attitude Is Everything. A cancer diagnosis is frightening. But remember, breast cancer is highly curable when detected and treated early. Keep friends and family close and take advantage of emotional and psychological support services.

Whether it's a weekly support group, a yoga class, meditation or psychological counseling, it's important to find solace and maintain good emotional health and strength during your breast cancer journey.

2. Take Advantage of Integrative Medicine. Integrative medicine cannot cure cancer by itself. It can, however, complement conventional cancer treatments. Acupuncture may alleviate side effects and reduce pain, massage therapy relaxes muscles and combats stress, and nutritional supplements may help minimize side effects of chemotherapy and improve general health and wellness.

3. Maintain Optimal Body Weight and Stay Active. Several studies, including the National Cancer Institute's HEAL study, show that physical activity contributes to disease prevention and may have an impact on cancer survival rates and reoccurrence.

I stress the benefits of exercise to all of my patients: A walk in the park, a few laps around the mall or a leisurely bike ride can boost your mood and provide a social activity. Talk to your doctor about exercises that are best for you, and, if possible, aim for 20 to 30 minutes of exercise five days per week.

4. Compliance Is Key. Studies show that many women (up to 50 percent) opt out of some or all of their recommended cancer treatment program.

This may surprise you, but think about it: Imagine a patient who had a tumor removed from her breast followed by chemotherapy and radiation. Her hair is just coming back in, and it seems she's through with treatment. Then her oncologist says it's time to start five years of a hormone pill that may cause hot flashes and weight gain.

A patient is sure to ask "why" if her surgeon said the cancer had been effectively removed, so she deserves a detailed discussion surrounding the reasons for additional therapy. Unfortunately, communication is sometimes lacking. The fact is that women who don't complete the entire treatment program for early-stage breast cancer are more likely to have a reoccurrence of their disease. Maintain open communication with your doctor. Make sure you understand exactly what he or she is recommending for you and why.

5) Laugh a Little.While cancer is no laughing matter, a growing body of research suggests that laughing may help strengthen your immune system, ease pain, relax muscles and reduce stress levels.

Laughter can also provide an escape from the day-to-day stresses of cancer. Therapeutic humor does not depend solely on comedy or jokes, but rather on the experience of connecting with others while sharing silly laughter exercises and focusing on good-hearted living. It can be challenging to find humor while experiencing sadness, but patients learn that a little laughter can go a long way.

--Dr. Citrin

Readers -- Are you or anyone you know battling breast cancer? Is living a healthy lifestyle part of your treatment? Are you incorporating any of the tips mentioned above? Did you find this article helpful? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Dennis Citrin, M.B. Ch.B., Ph.D., is a medical oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern Regional Medical Center. He has more than 30 years of experience treating women with breast cancer and recently authored the book Knowledge Is Power: What Every Woman Needs to Know About Breast Cancer, available at Amazon.com. You can follow Dr. Citrin on Twitter.

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