Reducing the risk of breast cancer recurrence

Published 7:30 am Saturday, October 16, 2021

A breast cancer diagnosis can change patients’ lives in ways they never imagined. That’s especially so in the rare instances when women under 40 are diagnosed with the disease.

According to the American Cancer Society, it’s uncommon for women under 40 to receive a breast cancer diagnosis. In fact, data from the ACS indicates that only about 4 percent of all women diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States are under age 40. But 4 percent is nothing to brush aside, especially when the ACS estimates that more than 300,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. That means roughly 12,000 women under 40 in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and many of those women will understandably express concerns about cancer recurrence in the years to come.

The medical experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine note that learning to cope with fears of breast cancer recurrence is an important part of the recovery process. Those same experts note that various lifestyle changes can help women regain their health, strength and optimism and quell any fears they have about cancer recurrence.

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• Take care of yourself, both emotionally and physically. Johns Hopkins Medicine urges breast cancer survivors to put their own needs first sometimes. That can be difficult for younger breast cancer survivors with children at home, but prioritizing their own emotional well-being can help women overcome their fears of recurrence. Support groups can connect women with fellow breast cancer survivors, and women should not hesitate to discuss any fears or concerns with their doctors. It’s also vital that women prioritize their physical well-being. Routine exercise and a healthy diet can help women reduce stress and maintain a healthy weight, which can reduce risk for recurrence.

• Stay on top of screenings and vaccinations. Another way to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence is to stay up-to-date on screenings, flu shots and vaccinations. Annual physicals and screenings for cardiovascular conditions like high cholesterol and diabetes can help women stay on a healthy path forward.

• Monitor vitamin D levels. Johns Hopkins Medicine notes that the Nurses Health Study found a link between low levels of vitamin D and breast cancer incidence. It remains unknown if vitamin D supplements can lower risk of breast cancer recurrence, but maintaining sufficient levels of vitamin D can promote overall health. Women can speak with their physicians about vitamin D and which supplements to consider. In addition, spending 20 minutes per day in the sunshine while wearing sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 can help women reach recommended levels of vitamin D.

Cancer recurrence is a significant concern for survivors. However, various strategies can help women reduce their risk for recurrence and help them regain their optimism for the future.