FRIDAY, Dec. 7, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- There's more evidence that when a survivor of early stage breast cancer takes up healthy eating and regular exercise, the odds of the disease returning go down.
The key is sticking with such programs, said study lead author Dr. Wolfgang Janni.
Healthier lifestyles "might improve the prognosis of breast cancer patients if adherence is high," said Janni, who directs obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Ulm in Germany. His team developed and implemented a new program to help keep those lifestyle changes on track.
The findings were scheduled for presentation on Thursday at the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.
In the study, Janni's team tracked outcomes for nearly 2,300 early stage breast cancer patients who'd been treated with chemotherapy. Half of these cancer survivors were randomly assigned to two years of ongoing telephone-based, personalized healthy living advice. The other half (the "control" group) received standard, general advice on a healthy lifestyle.
Those in the personalized lifestyle intervention group were coached in areas such as improving their diet, reducing fat intake, and increasing physical activity.
After two years, people in the intervention group saw an average weight loss of 2.2 pounds, while those in the control group experienced an average weight gain of 2.1 pounds, the findings showed.
But the real difference was in cancer outcomes, Janni's team said. The rate of disease-free survival among the nearly 1,500 patients who completed the lifestyle intervention was 35 percent higher than that of those who didn't complete the program. And it was 50 percent higher than women who didn't get the intervention at all.
The findings shouldn't come as a big surprise, Janni said.
Prior research "has shown that obesity and low physical activity are associated with higher risks of developing breast cancer, as well as an increased risk of recurrence and reduced survival," he noted in a meeting news release.
One U.S. expert agreed.
Many women who've survived breast cancer may feel helpless, but "it is great to be able to tell patients that, yes, there is something they can do to help prevent a recurrence," said Dr. Alice Police. She is regional director of breast surgery at the Northwell Health Cancer Institute, in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.
She said sometimes women need a little nudge, though, to stay healthy.
"This is a very specific and focused look at the issues and includes information on exactly how a program of diet and lifestyle changes should look and function," Police said, "and that makes it very important."
Dr. Lauren Cassell is chief of breast surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. Looking over the new study, she agreed that the new program appears to have merit.
"By providing the patient with a systematic telephone lifestyle intervention program -- which was not difficult to develop and implement -- they were able to increase patient compliance and as a result improve outcomes," Cassell said.
"I believe patients want to help themselves," Cassell said. "Sometimes they just need a little extra support."
Because the findings were presented at a medical meeting, they should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The American Cancer Society has more on lowering the risk of breast cancer progression or return.