The Therapist is in...Belly dancing, broccoli & breast cancer

The Therapist is in...
Belly dancing, broccoli & breast cancer
by Shannon Murphy, MPT

October is both Breast Cancer Awareness month and National Physical Therapy month - and while some might miss the connection, there is a significant amount of overlap when it comes to the topic of exercise in prevention and recovery. No one has a magic bullet against any cancer-there are too many variables across specific types and people to permit a simple solution. But the bottom line is that healthy lifestyles can prevent cancer from developing the in the first place, and limit complications in those that do take hold.
The Skinny on Estrogen
Estrogen is a natural hormone produced by the body that plays an enormous role in normal female development, reproduction and bone health. When it comes to breast cancer, however, research has clearly shown that overexposure to estrogen can lead to malignant disease. Why? While there are several forms of breast cancer, the estrogen-receptor positive variant is most common. The more estrogen, the more fuel for abnormal cells. So - how you can control the amount of estrogen in your body?
Maintain a normal BMI. Body Mass Index (BMI) is an indicator of healthy body size that accounts for weight & height. Since fatty tissue increases estrogen production and storage, it thereby increases cancer risk. Obesity also makes it difficult to detect lumps and can delay detection, making treatment less effective.
Eat a balanced diet. Limiting animal fats (meat, cheese, dairy) and increasing intake of fruits/vegetables both lead to lower levels of circulating estrogen in the body. Healthy diets also promote better immunity to disease and weight control.
Limit exposure to synthetic hormones. The topic of pollution and its effects on human disease is a field that remains under development and debate. However there is mounting evidence that the increased prevalence of synthetic hormones in our daily lives (from plastics, growth hormones, birth control pills, etc) can have cumulative effects on cell development. Glass/steel containers, organic meats/dairy and other birth control methods offer alternatives to some of these concerns.
Exercise. Physical activity naturally balances estrogen levels, as well as lowering other hormones and growth factors that can turn breast cells into cancer. But even those who develop the disease boost their survival odds by 50% ... simply by eating well and exercising. Three to five hours per week of brisk walking provides the greatest protection from developing breast cancer or relapsing after remission. Not a walker? Try swimming, biking, dancing or working vigorously around the yard or farm.
And then exercise more. Even for people who "hate to exercise", regular activity reliably improves mood and self-esteem. Group exercise classes can offer important psychological support to those recovering from cancer and help to encourage people to 'stick with it', even when feeling sad or sick. The key is to find something that is appropriate to your fitness level so that you don't become discouraged or injured in the process. Talk to a physical therapist or other qualified health professional before getting started.
Managing Complications
A variety of physical problems can confront women (and men) afflicted with breast cancer, particularly issues with lymphedema and joint stiffness following cancer treatments. Lymphedema refers to severe swelling that can develop when a limb loses the ability to drain fluid, particularly after radiation or lymph node resection. The backup of fluid can result in severe pain, stiffness and increase risk for infection. Surgical procedures like mastectomy (removal of the breast) and reconstruction (building a replacement breast) also create stiffness related to swelling and scar tissue.
In all of these cases, exercise is important in recovery. Early intervention with gentle movement helps improve circulation, flexibility, and normal use of the body (especially the arm). Physical therapy helps patients learn appropriate exercises and restore function through education, manual techniques (such as massage & stretching) and special treatments like compressive bandaging.
So take advantage of autumn to put a little color in your diet and cheeks - it just might save your life!

This series of columns are by Shannon Murphy, MPT, Owner/Director of BodySense PT. 9 Saint Paul St, 3rd Floor, Boonsboro, MD 21713. 301-432-8585 phone, 301-432-1987 fax,