Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Lifestyle Changes to Manage Breast Cancer

Lifestyle changes can help:

  • Strengthening your body so that you can withstand some of the rigors of treatment.
  • Optimizing the function of your immune system to aid in the fight against cancer.
  • Improving your emotional outlook, so you can enjoy life to the fullest, even during treatment for breast cancer.
  • Decreasing the risk other medical problems that could complicate your health.

Quit Smoking

Smoking is a known risk factor for many cancers and other health disorders. It can also increase the risk of complications from medical procedures and slow tissue healing.

When you quit smoking, the body immediately begins to repair itself. Quitting will help boost your immune system to help fight the cancer and improve recovery from treatment.

Limit Exposure to Estrogen

If you were diagnosed with a hormone-sensitive breast cancer, you may be advised to limit your intake of foods with phytoestrogens, like soy or soy-based products. A phytoestrogen occurs in naturally plants, but when eaten may mimic the effect of estrogen in the body. Examples of soy products include soy milk, tofu, and edamame. A registered dietitian can help with menus that include adequate protein and vegetable intake if you decide or need to avoid soy.

Talk to your doctor about any herbs or supplements. Some, including soy supplements, may interfere with other medications you are taking.

Reduce Your Risk of Infection

Cancer and its treatments suppress the body's immune system. This can increase the risk of infection, or increase the severity of common infections, like a cold or the flu. To decrease the risk of infection while going through cancer treatment:

  • Wash hands thoroughly and often. Hand washing is the most effective method of decreasing the chance of catching colds and flu. Carry hand sanitizer for times when washing is not convenient.
  • Try to avoid crowds, especially during cold and flu season.
  • Avoid touching eyes, mouth, and nose to after coming in contact with surfaces or objects.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects often.
  • Ask your doctor about immunization against the flu and pneumonia.

Make Dietary Changes

A healthful diet can help your body and mind. Your diet can provide fuel to help your body function at its best, and nutrition to help tissue heal and recover. Mood and overall energy will also be better with proper nutritional support. A healthy diet includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and protein, and whole grains.

Cancer itself and some cancer treatment can reduce appetite. It becomes important to make the most of the calories that are eaten. A registered dietitian can help manage challenges that may be found with cancer or cancer treatments, find healthy alternatives, and develop an effective meal plan.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise helps maintain weight, modulates high levels of estrogen, and supports the immune system. If you have not been exercising regularly, check with your doctor to choose a safe exercise program. Exercise can help:

  • Promote overall fitness
  • Boost your energy level
  • Improve your immune system
  • Boost your spirits and improving your emotional outlook

You may consider consulting a personal trainer to help you set exercise goals and to safely follow through on initiating an exercise program. While adding exercise, be sure to balance rest and activities to prevent becoming too tired.

Manage Fatigue

Fatigue is the most frequently experienced symptom of cancer and cancer treatments. To help avoid getting overtired, prioritize tasks and focus on the most important ones. It is important to allow others to help you with daily chores, shopping, and preparing meals. If needed, plan time throughout the day for rest.

If fatigue is affecting quality of life, talk to your doctor. Some treatments can be adjusted to decrease negative side effects like fatigue.

Seek Support

The diagnosis of cancer is a life-defining event that can be difficult to handle. Facing the uncertainty of a serious disease, feeling anxious about how you will feel during treatment, changes in your lifestyle, and worrying about the impact of both the diagnosis and treatment can be overwhelming. It is important to rely on family, friends, and other people in your life. People who allow themselves to seek help while they are recovering from cancer can often maintain better emotional balance. Other sources of support include:

  • Religious community
  • Support groups for people with your type of cancer
  • Professional support from social workers, psychologists, and/or psychiatrists who are trained to help support cancer patients and their families

Family and caregivers may also need support. Encourage them to seek support groups or counseling geared toward them.

Comfort Measures

Breast cancer found in advances stages can be harder to treat. Some people choose treatments to ease cancer complications or choose to stop treatment completely. Depending on your circumstances, it may be realistic to begin end-of-life planning. Considerations may include:

  • Choosing home or hospice care
  • Financial decisions
  • Advance directives—includes legal issues, like wills, hospital orders for your care, and power of attorney for medical care and finances
  • Insurance coverage

If you need guidance, talk to a member of your healthcare team. You can be referred to a trained professional to guide you through the process.


Breast cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Updated May 2016. Accessed June 30, 2017.

Breast cancer in women. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated May 31, 2017. Accessed June 30, 2017.

Estrogen-sensitive tumors and nutrition. Dana Farber Cancer Institute website. Available at: Accessed June 30, 2017.

Stay healthy. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Accessed June 30, 2017.

Treatment option overview. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Updated May 5, 2017. Accessed June 30, 2017.

Vadiraja HS, Raghavendra RM, Nagarathna R, et al. Effects of a yoga program on cortisol rhythm and mood states in early breast cancer patients undergoing adjuvant radiotherapy: a randomized controlled trial. Integr Cancer Ther. 2009;8(1):37-46.

4/16/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance: Korstjens I, May AM, van Weert E, et al. Quality of life after self-management cancer rehabilitation: a randomized controlled trial comparing physical and cognitive-behavioral training versus physical training. Psychosom Med. 2008;70(4):422-429.

Last reviewed June 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 10/28/2015