Diet and exercise could improve breast cancer survival, regardless of weight

In collaboration with the Press Association

Eating a healthy diet and doing moderate exercise can halve the risk of dying for people who have had treatment for early breast cancer regardless of their weight, a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology has found.

Cancer Research UK described the result as "really interesting".

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego's (UCSD) Moores Cancer Centre looked for the first time at the impact of both diet and physical activity on breast cancer survival in 1,490 women taking part in the Women's Health Eating and Living (WHEL) study. Dr John Pierce, study author and director of the centre's Cancer Prevention and Control Programme, commented: "We demonstrate in this study of breast cancer survivors that even if a woman is overweight, if she eats at least five servings of vegetables and fruits a day and walks briskly for 30 minutes, six days a week, her risk of death from her disease goes down by 50 per cent. The key is that you must do both." The women, who were all aged 70 or younger with an average age of 50, had been diagnosed with early stage breast cancer between 1991 and 2000 and had completed their initial treatment.

The women's diet and activity levels were assessed for between five and 11 years.

Women who were both physically active and ate healthily had a mortality rate of seven per cent, approximately half of that seen in the other participants.

Co-author Dr Cheryl Rock, also a member of the Cancer Prevention and Control Programme, added: "Of particular importance is that this halving of risk was seen in women who were not obese as well as in those who were obese.

"Also, the effect was not seen in women who practiced only one of the lifestyle patterns - high vegetable and fruit intake, or physical activity."

Henry Scowcroft, cancer information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "The results of this study add to mounting evidence that adopting a healthy lifestyle might also play a role in cancer survival, as well as helping to prevent the disease. "It is really interesting that the effects observed in this study only occurred when the women both exercised and ate healthily. We still need to find out more about exactly how lifestyle changes can influence breast cancer survival."

Mr Scowcroft continued: "What we do know is that maintaining a healthy bodyweight, eating sensibly and taking regular exercise is the key to a healthy life, as it can help reduce your risk of several types of cancer, as well as many other diseases."