Diet and exercise to prevent weight gain in breast cancer

Patients with breast cancer on adjuvant chemotherapy can experience weight gain and concurrent loss of muscle mass.

Researchers at the University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston studied the feasibility and impact of home-based diet/exercise options.

First, the details.

  • 90 premenopausal patients with breast cancer and on adjuvant chemotherapy were randomly assigned to one of 3 groups for 6 months.
    • A calcium-rich diet (CA) intervention (control)
    • CA + exercise (EX)
    • CA + EX and high fruit and vegetable, low-fat diet (FVLF)
  • Everyone exercised, including aerobic and strength-training.

And, the results.

  • About 9% of the participants dropped out of the study.
  • There were no differences in physical activity between groups.
  • Measures of adiposity were generally lower in the CA + EX + FVLF group, with significant differences in the percentage of body fat (arms and legs).
  • Lean body mass was largely preserved, even in the control group
  • There were no differences in quality of life, anxiety, depression, lipid levels, sex hormone binding globulin, insulin, proinsulin, C-reactive protein, interleukin-1B, and tumor-necrosis factor receptor-II.

The bottom line?
The authors concluded, “Diet and exercise interventions can prevent weight gain and adverse body composition changes.”

They also recommended that more research is needed to determine the most effective diet and exercise options during treatment that would promote adherence.

Frankly, it doesn’t appear to me that much was gained by adding different diets to exercise. So, I looked for another study for perspective. It turns out that Dr. Anna Schwartz from the University of Washington in Seattle conducted a study in a similar group of women, but with an emphasis on home-based exercise.

Dr. Schwatz reported, “Women who adhered to the exercise program maintained their body weight, while nonexercisers steadily gained weight,” -– a significant difference. “There were no differences in incidence or intensity of nausea or anorexia between the exercisers and nonexercisers. Women who exercised over the four cycles of chemotherapy improved their functional ability (mean 23%) compared to the nonexercisers who showed significant declines in functional ability (mean -15%).

So, exercise is important and complemented by a calcium-rich diet that is high in fruit and veggies and low in fat intake.

Speak with your dietitian.

6/23/08 23:09 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.