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Exercise, Nutrition and Metastatic Breast Cancer

Find out what the current research says about nutrition and exercise when living with MBC.

Exercise, Nutrition and Metastatic Breast Cancer

Nutrition and exercise are often discussed in terms of reducing risk of cancer and helping people with some early-stage cancers cope with symptoms and side effects of treatment. But how do nutrition and exercise fit into the management of an advanced-stage cancer like metastatic breast cancer?

Metastatic breast cancer, also called MBC, is an advanced cancer that began in the breasts, but has spread to other areas of the body. It is estimated that over 150,000 women in the United States are currently living with metastatic breast cancer. The vast majority of patients are women, and MBC is very rare among men.

The potential benefits of exercise for people living with MBC are not well studied. In previous decades, lifestyle approaches like changes to diet and exercise were not believed to have much impact on easing symptoms or improving treatment outcomes.

Today, there seems to be a growing interest in the topic. This may be due to the fact that treatments for MBC have improved and expanded over the past few years. People who are diagnosed with MBC today have many more treatment options than those who were diagnosed five or ten years ago. Patients today are living longer. As a result, both patients and healthcare providers are interested in ways to improve quality of life.

Exercise and MBC
Research into the possible benefits of exercise for patients with MBC is ongoing. There have been a few studies that concluded exercise could offer some benefit to patients living with MBC, helping improve aerobic fitness and physical strength, and helping patients manage the weight gain that is a common side effect of breast cancer. However, more research is needed to determine if exercise can significantly impact survival rates or improve quality of life for people with MBC.

For people living with MBC, exercise should always be done under the guidance of a healthcare provider. Remember that MBC is different for everyone—it affects different areas of the body, presents different symptoms and requires different treatments. Not every form of exercise will be safe or appropriate for every patient. If you are living with MBC and interested in exercise, or taking part in a sport or activity, talk to your healthcare team about how to exercise safely.

Nutrition and MBC
Similar to exercise, the ways in which nutrition may be able to impact survival rates or quality of life in patients with MBC are not well studied, and research is ongoing. Some of the available research supports the idea that women living with MBC can benefit from individualized treatment plans that include changes to diet and nutrition, and that diet and nutrition have a place in the treatment of advanced cancers.

Nutrition should also be a focus for patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and patients recovering from surgery. Adequate amounts of protein, healthy fats, whole grains, fiber and other nutrients are important for the body’s healing and recovery from treatment. Your healthcare provider may recommend changes to diet that may help manage these side effects.

Many patients make changes to their diet after a cancer diagnosis. If you are thinking of changing your diet, it is best to make those changes under the guidance of your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian.

Medically reviewed in November 2019.

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