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Don't Come Back Again

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The same steps you take to become healthier and reduce your risk of other serious illness may help you avoid another cancer battle.

Although the findings aren’t conclusive, losing weight if you’re obese, getting physical activity and modifying your diet to include more vegetables and fewer high-fat foods may benefit you, according to recent research.

The link between obesity and cancer recurrence is getting a lot of attention lately.

Cancer experts are seeing that people who are overweight at diagnosis for most cancers have a poor prognosis, according to Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, Ph.D., registered dietitian, professor and Webb Endowed Chair of Nutrition Sciences, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Ala.

In addition, “people who gain weight after breast cancer have a poor prognosis. It points out that weight is important. That’s why weight is at the top of the list of suggestions to prevent cancer recurrence,” says Demark-Wahnefried

However, when the question is whether losing weight after a breast cancer diagnosis will improve your survival rate, the research is limited, according to Elisa V. Bandera, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, New Brunswick, N.J.

Dr. Bandera recently served on the expert panel discussing the Breast Cancer Survivorship Continuous Update Project produced by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) in partnership with World Cancer Research Fund International.

It’s only recently that health experts have started to focus on how lifestyle factors, such as diet, obesity and physical activity affect cancer survival. Most of the data is based on observation, writes Dr. Bandera in an email interview.

“For primary prevention we know losing weight is important. But we don’t know a lot yet about weight loss and survival,” says Alice G. Bender, MS, registered dietitian nutritionist, associate Director for Nutrition Programs, AICR, Washington D.C.

But that doesn’t mean you should wait for the final word, say experts.

Losing weight has other benefits as you recover from cancer, according to according Jennifer A. Ligibel, M.D., Senior Physician, Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Mass.

Being obese may lead to other problems such as fatigue, depression and lymphedema, according to Dr. Ligibel, who works with the American Society of Clinical Oncology to draw attention to the connection between cancer and obesity and to help educate patients about losing weight.