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Exercise and nutrition after breast cancer surgery

Around 87% of women in the UK diagnosed with breast cancer survive it for 5 years or more, according to Cancer Research UK. If you are one of these cancer survivors it is important that you know nutrition and exercise can play a key role in helping you achieve optimum health.

Nutrition to help ease symptoms

Nausea and vomiting are common after surgery. They are especially common if you've also had chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Other symptoms after surgery include a loss of appetite or desire to eat, and the ‘wasting syndrome’ called cachexia. This is a wasting away of muscle, organ tissue and other lean body mass. It's often accompanied by weight loss and weakness.

Here are some ways to ease symptoms of nausea after breast cancer treatment:

  • Eat several smaller meals throughout the day instead of three big meals.
  • Try protein shakes, yoghurt and liquid protein drinks when solid foods cause you to feel sick.
  • Try simple soups such as chicken with vegetables and broth if nausea is an issue.

Nutrition to aid healing

Good nutrition is associated with a better chance of recovery from cancer. After breast cancer surgery your body needs more than its usual supply of protein. It needs it to repair cells, fight infection and heal incisions. Straight after surgery boost your protein intake without worrying about calories. It will aid your healing and help you regain your strength. If you need to lose weight, you can focus on that after your post-op recovery.

Here are some ways to increase your protein intake:

  • Add protein powder or dry milk to dishes to boost their protein content.
  • Add grated cheese to vegetables, potatoes, rice and salads to increase protein and calories.
  • Add high-protein snacks such as almonds, peanuts and cheese to your diet.

Anti-cancer diet?

Studies suggest that as many as 9 out of every 100 cancer cases might be preventable through changes in diet and healthier eating.

Women who eat higher levels of saturated fats may double their breast cancer risk compared to those on a low-fat diet. Cancer Research UK suggests replacing animal fats with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

There is no strong evidence of a link between sugars and carbohydrates and breast cancer. However, some research has found diets high in carbohydrate may be associated with an increased risk of oestrogen receptor negative breast cancer.

Women who eat and drink more dairy products may have a lower risk of breast cancer. This may be due to the calcium content.

Eating more fibre in the diet has been linked with a lower breast cancer risk in women before the menopause.

Women who eat more fruit may have a lower breast cancer risk, which may be due to their fibre and antioxidant content.

Carotenoids are natural colourings in some plants, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, greens, papaya, peppers and tomatoes. Research suggests that women with higher levels of carotenoids in their blood may have a lower breast cancer risk.

Soya beans contain phyto oestrogens and isoflavones. Some research has suggested that eating phyto oestrogens and isoflavones regularly reduces oestrogen levels. Sources of these include soy, peas and beans, and lignans found in vegetables, fruits, grains, tea and coffee.

As well as healthy eating, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking and drinking less alcohol can also reduce the risk of breast cancer and some other diseases.

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