Unhealthy Habits May Increase in Some Women After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis


Women who receive a breast cancer diagnosis were more likely to develop unhealthy behaviors one and two years after diagnosis, even if they were considered healthy at time of diagnosis.

Most women had healthy lifestyles at the time of breast cancer diagnosis, although several developed unhealthy behaviors one and two years after diagnosis such as tobacco use, alcohol consumption and weight gain, according to data published in Cancer.

Based on these results, researchers recommend that there should be a system to help this patient population combat unhealthy behaviors.

Previous evidence has provided that there are multiple benefits for a survivor to pursue a healthy lifestyle; however, unhealthy habits are still prevalent among women who have received a diagnosis of breast cancer due to psychological and treatment effects. “Nevertheless, for many women, additional support through lifestyle interventions is required to facilitate and maintain these positive changes,” the study authors wrote.

Researchers sough to discover the prevalence of unhealthy behaviors at diagnosis, one year and two years after in 9,556 women (mean age, 56.3 years) who survived early-stage breast cancer. Unhealthy behaviors were defined as failure to meet physical activity recommendation (10 or more metabolic equivalent task hours per week), quit or reduce tobacco usage, decrease alcohol consumption to less than daily or gaining substantial weight over time.

At time women received a breast cancer diagnosis, 41.7% were inactive (they did not meet physical activity recommendations), 18.2% were using tobacco, 14.6% consumed alcohol daily and 48.9% were overweight or obese. The authors note that one in three tobacco smokers and one in 10 women who consumed alcohol every day improved their behaviors after their breast cancer diagnosis.

After one and two years after diagnosis, 37% and 35.6% of patients were reported having unhealthy behaviors related to physical activity, respectively. This was also seen with tobacco usage (11.4% and 9.5% , respectively) and unhealthy alcohol consumption (13.1% and 12.6%).

After one year, 9.4% of women were originally underweight or normal weight and transitions to overweight or obese. The rate of this occurring was 5.9% after two years.In women who were overweight and obese at diagnosis, at least 5% body weight was gained in 15.4% of women after one year and in 16.2% after two years.

Within a five-year increment, older women were more likely to report unhealthy alcohol consumption and were inactive. In contrast, these women were less likely to use tobacco. An increased risk for depression was associated with a lower likelihood of unhealthy tobacco use and a higher likelihood of unhealthy alcohol consumption. Compared with a primary school education, women with a college education were less likely to report an unhealthy physical activity behavior and more likely to report an unhealthy alcohol consumption.

In women who were overweight or obese at the time of diagnosis, patients treated with chemotherapy, compared to those who did not, were more likely to gain weight.

“Currently, there are no specific standardized strategies to support patients’ choices to maintain or initiate healthy behaviors after a cancer diagnosis, and referrals to lifestyle behavior programs are not a usual standard of care,” the study authors concluded. “An integrated effort is strongly needed to develop tailored, patient-centered and easily accessible programs for the promotion of a healthy lifestyle, which have the greatest potential for impact if they are targeted when women are most inclined to change their behaviors after a diagnosis of cancer.”

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