“You have cancer.”
Those three words are some of the scariest ever uttered by a health care professional. And if you’re a woman who has gone through the menopausal transition naturally, you actually have a higher risk of developing cancer. The American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Cancer.net reports that women who went through menopause after the age of 55 face an increased risk of ovarian, breast and uterine cancers. Furthermore, your cancer risk is even greater if you had your first menstrual period prior to the age of 12.
So is there anything you can do to protect yourself? Researchers who’ve looked into the matter answer a resounding “Yes! Maintain a healthy lifestyle!” In fact, the American Cancer Society reports that about one-third of the 572,000 annual deaths of Americans caused by cancer have been linked to an unhealthy diet, limited physical activity and being overweight.
The latest evidence comes from a large study involving 65,838 postmenopausal women between the ages of 50 and 79 who were part of the Women’s Health Initiative conducted by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The researchers found that study participants who had a healthy lifestyle – meaning eating a healthy diet, exercising, watching their weight and limiting alcohol intake – had a 20-percent lower risk of dying from cancer than women who didn’t pay attention to these issues. Furthermore, the participants who had a healthy lifestyle had about a 33-percent lower risk of death overall than the other participants.
Resilience During Treatment
Based on this information, I thought I would check in with some of my friends who have been diagnosed with cancer for their individual take on this information. Virginia gives exercise credit for helping her body respond well to treatment designed to stop the cancer. “I believe that my commitment to exercise before cancer gave my body the ability to fight back and is the reason my responses have been good,” she said.
Avoiding Recurrence of Cancer
Another friend, Kathy, increasingly has focused on her lifestyle choices as a way to remain cancer-free. “I can tell you what my breast cancer doctor always tells me: women who have had cancer and who exercise are less prone to a recurrence of the cancer,” she said. “He was always on me about my weight. When I had my exam last September and had lost 30 pounds, he was ecstatic! Now the exercise thing...I’ve gotta do more of that, but I've learned from going to Weight Watchers that exercise doesn't have to mean sweating at the gym or running marathons. A simple walk, getting up out of our chairs and moving around, working in the garden all count. It's being stagnant that isn't good.”
Not Enough Encouragement from Medical Community
Surprisingly, Virginia found that the power of exercise is not always highlighted by members of the medical community. “The only time exercise was a huge issue to the medical community seemed to be when I had my stem cell transplant,” she said. “MD Anderson had a whole array of incentives ranging from stars to bandanas to get you up and walking. The important part, however, was really the culture of valuing exercise that was shown by the staff. When you did walk, every nurse or aide you passed said something encouraging like: ‘Way to go!’ ‘Great to see you exercising!’ ‘Rack up those stars!’ I wish there was a way we could put stars on something that would cause other people to say, ‘Keep up the exercise!’”
An Active Support Group
Finally, participating in group exercise also can offer a silver lining – a ready-made group of cheerleaders who provide support. “My exercise class was my most supportive group from the day I was diagnosed,” Virginia explained. “They sent me cards. They organized a small group to visit me in the hospital even though they knew masks and gloves would be required. My instructor encouraged me to come back when I could only sit in a chair wearing a mask. In her words, ‘It's not just the physical exercise. It's being with the group. It's good for you and it's for them.’ Now, I can usually make it through an hour-long class without using my chair. It's the group where I feel most comfortable with my inch-long hair.”
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
American Cancer Society. (2013). Diet and physical activity: What’s the cancer connection?
Cancer.net. (2013). Menopause and cancer risk and treatment.
MNT. (2014). Diet and exercise: Cancer benefits in huge study of women’s health.
Published On: January 30, 2014