Breast Cancer Survivors – Overweight And Sedentary!

Image source: / Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee

Image source: / Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee

Breast Cancer Survivors – Overweight And Sedentary!

I chose that title to get your attention because I came across an interesting but fairly disturbing bit of information today while researching an article I’m writing about risk factors for breast cancer. With this article I hope to raise awareness of two things we are doing as breast cancer survivors that are not helping us in our bid to stay cancer free and then I’ll offer some suggestions and tips.

In the book “Improving Outcomes For Breast Cancer Survivors” published in 2015 1, the chapter titled Risk Reduction from Weight Management and Physical Activity Interventions indicates that many breast cancer survivors are overweight or obese, and were not engaging in the recommended levels of activity.

The actual figures were pretty disturbing – a whopping 65% of breast cancer survivors were deemed to be overweight or obese, and 30% were too sedentary. People, this is important!

Another new study published in the Gynecologic Oncology Journal in May 2015 indicated that inactivity and sedentary behavior were related to poorer health outcomes in breast cancer survivors. 2

Older studies confirm that postmenopausal women whose body mass index falls in the obese category have about twice the breast cancer risk of women with a body mass index in the normal range. 3

One study indicated that obesity increased breast cancer risk by as much as 58% in postmenopausal women, and was also associated with advanced disease, including larger tumor size, disease that had spread, and more deaths. 4

So why does being overweight or obese pose such a risk?

Here are some of the factors we know about:

1. Fat cells create estrogen and an overabundance of estrogen can cause hormonal imbalances within the body which trigger a whole cascade of problems.

2.  Fat cells also release inflammatory factors which are associated with insulin resistance, both of which can increase breast cancer risk.

3. Emotional factors – being overweight and/or obese carries with it a whole range of emotional and self-esteem issues and negative ways of thinking which are also considered to be risk factors for breast cancer.

Fortunately, with a few key lifestyle changes this is something we can address and improve. If you have already had breast cancer once, you know for certain you don’t want it back again, so anything than can be done to reduce the risk of recurrence is well worth pursuing.

Helpful Tips If You Are Overweight and Sedentary

1.  Exercise – it’s never too late to begin. When we exercise, we bring fresh oxygen into our bodies and cancer hates oxygenated tissues. Lack of exercise and oxygen is the environment in which cancer loves to thrive. If you have disliked exercise in the past, stop thinking of it as a chore and think of it as your “pro-life” choice.  Find new ways of exercising that you love – join a fun dance class, learn to paddle a canoe, get a friend or grandchild and walk in beautiful places, find new ways to move. Do something different every day if you like variety, but get your body moving, at least 30 minutes per day.

2.  Get some help. The factors contributing to food addiction, obesity and weight gain go deeper than you might suspect. As one study put it, overeating was “a substitute gratification in reaction to intolerable life situations.” If you have tried to lose weight in the past and it hasn’t worked, try working with a counselor. Because being overweight and/or obese generally involves emotional issues, working with a counselor to begin to gently heal the emotional factors and to understand why you eat the way you do can be so empowering and can greatly increase your chances of success.

3.  Check out  They are an international fellowship of men and women who have problems with food addictions. Their program of recovery is based on the twelve-step program used by Alcoholics Anonymous. There are no fees, dues or weigh-ins at FA meetings. Membership is open to anyone who wants help with food.

4. Try hypnosis.  A well-trained hypnotherapist can help you to change your thinking, get to the bottom of the problem and create a whole new relationship with food and with your body. A few of my friends have done this and found that hypnosis definitely helped with weight loss.

5. Get your doctor or naturopath involved. He or she may have some very helpful weight loss suggestions for you. Naturopaths in particular know which nutrients help to curb food cravings, and which foods make you feel more full but don’t contribute to weight gain.

If you have any helpful tips or hints about weight loss, feel free to share them in the comments section, and I sincerely hope this has helped you.


1.  Risk Reduction from Weight Management and Physical Activity Interventions –

2. Physical activity and sedentary behavior in breast cancer survivors: New insight into activity patterns and potential intervention targets –

3.  Obesity and Breast Cancer Risk –

4.  Overweight, Obesity, and Postmenopausal Invasive Breast Cancer Risk: A Secondary Analysis of the Women’s Health Initiative Randomized Clinical Trials –

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The Problem With Obesity and Breast Cancer

Photo courtesy of / Stuart Miles

The Problem With Obesity and Breast Cancer

A study done by the University of Colorado Denver in December 2012, titled Obesity and Overfeeding Affecting Both Tumor and Systemic Metabolism Activates the Progesterone Receptor to Contribute to Postmenopausal Breast Cancer, was recently forwarded to me by a friend (since I both hail from Colorado and am a breast cancer coach) and several things in the study seemed worth sharing.

Study Searches For Reason Why Obesity Increases Breast Cancer Risk

The researchers were searching for an explanation of why obese, postmenopausal women are at greater risk for developing breast cancer, and also why their cancers tend to be more aggressive than those in leaner women.  The study was done on animals, but did open some insights as to why this could be happening.

The lead author of the study, Dr Erin Giles, stated “By using nutrient tracers for fat and sugar, we tracked where the body stored excess calories. In lean models, excess fat and glucose were taken up by the liver, mammary and skeletal tissues.  In obese models, excess fat and glucose were taken up by tumors, fueling their growth.”

I found this interesting because it implies that menopausal women might very well be able to control their breast cancer risk through weight management, something we’ve often been told. 

It also reminded me of another study I recently heard about where women who had received the traditional therapies for breast cancer were followed to see how they fared after those treatments.  They were split into 4 groups: (1) those who did nothing special after their treatments ended; (2) those who made the effort to eat 5 fruits and vegetables per day; (3) those who didn’t bother with the fruit and vegetables but who did exercise 30 minutes per day, 5 times per week; and (4) those who ate 5 fruits and vegetables per day AND exercised 30 minutes per day.  The group that fared much better than the other three, as you might imagine, was the 4th group, the group that ate the fruits and vegetables and exercised.  I don’t have access to the title of this study, but it is discussed by Dr David Servan-Schreiber in his video Natural Defenses In Preventing and Treating Cancer (see link below).

Progesterone Receptor Cancers More Aggressive

Back to the University of Colorado study.  The other interesting thing I read was that tumors from obese animals “exhibited increased levels of progesterone receptors, and that this receptor appeared to give tumors a metabolic advantage for growth.  To extend their findings to humans, they recruited gene analysis experts David Astling and Aik-Choon Tan who analyzed 585 human breast cancers and found that human tumors expressing the progesterone receptor had the same metabolic advantage.”

Dr Giles said, “Basically, we saw an abnormal metabolic response to fat and sugar in the obese that, in many ways, mirrors the response to fat and sugar in Type II diabetes.”  The researchers then tested the use of Metformin, a common Type II diabetes drug, with their test subjects and noted a dramatic decrease in tumor size, as well as reduced expression of the progesterone receptor.

This definitely piqued my interest because my own tumor had only progesterone receptors on it – no estrogen receptors – which is not the norm.  Because of this, many of my treatment providers, both conventional and alternative, were a little puzzled on how to proceed with my treatments.  I wasn’t obese, nor was I menopausal when I found my tumor, however.

Obesity and Weight Gain During Menopause Spells Trouble

The researchers found that weight gain during menopause is particularly detrimental for those who are obese and that the combination of obesity and weight gain during menopause can impact breast cancer in two ways:

1.  Tumors in obese women appear to have a metabolic advantage;

2.  The inability to store excess calories in healthy tissues may further fuel tumor growth.

Dr Giles said “While drugs may be useful in controlling breast cancer risk in obese, postmenopausal women, our results imply that a combination of diet and exercise may be equally if not more beneficial.”   The study to which Dr Servan-Schreiber referred in his video (referenced above) certainly implied that to be the case. 

So here’s what we can take away from these two studies:

1.  Women struggling with obesity as they enter menopause are at a higher risk of breast cancer;

2.   Those who are obese and do get breast cancer tend to have tumors that have a metabolic advantage, meaning they tend to grow more quickly and be more aggressive;

3.  A combination of good diet – incorporating plenty of fruits and vegetables – together with 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 times per week, had a very protective effect.

So it appears that the old adage is true – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  We need to keep our weight at a healthy level, not only in our earlier years, but particularly as we enter menopause.   Those are not the only things that will protect us from breast cancer, but a combination of diet and exercise is a good start.  To find out which fruits and vegetables give you the best protection, visit my page Diet and Cancer


E. D. Giles, E. A. Wellberg, D. P. Astling, S. M. Anderson, A. D. Thor, S. Jindal, A.-C. Tan, P. S. Schedin, P. S. MacLean. Obesity and Overfeeding Affecting Both Tumor and Systemic Metabolism Activates the Progesterone Receptor to Contribute to Postmenopausal Breast Cancer. Cancer Research, 2012; 72 (24): 6490 DOI: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-12-1653

Natural Defenses In Preventing And Treating Cancer (YouTube video – 58:21)

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New Research Indicates Exercise Not Protective Against Non-Invasive Breast Cancer


Photo courtesy of / Vlado

Photo courtesy of / Vlado

New Research Indicates Exercise Not Protective Against Non-Invasive Breast Cancer

Researchers from 10 European countries published a study in the ‘Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention‘ journal which examined the association between physical activity and in situ, non-invasive breast cancer. 

The European researchers examined whether physical activity might have a protective effect against non-invasive breast cancer.  The study was a large one, it followed 283,927 women, 1,059 of whom had non-invasive breast cancer, and concluded that physical activity had no such protective effect.  Even the researchers were surprised at this finding, they clearly didn’t expect it.

According to the American Cancer Society, in 2011 230,480 American women were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, and an estimated 57,650 women were diagnosed with non-invasive “in situ” carcinoma.  Of these cases, about 85% will be ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), meaning the abnormal cells are contained within the milk ducts, and approximately 15% are lobular carcinoma in situ.

Controversy Over DCIS and Over-Treatment

To get slightly off the topic of exercise, I’d like to explain that “in situ” breast cancer is the most frequent form of non-invasive breast cancer and is thought to be a risk factor or precursor for the development of invasive breast cancer.  There is much controversy, however, about this.  To my knowledge, there is no available data on DCIS that is left untreated, but I did locate a interesting review of autopsy records which showed that somewhere between 9%-15% of women have undetected DCIS at death (Welch, 1997). 

Which totally supports the idea that many diagnosed with DCIS will not have a problem with progression into invasive cancer.  The problem is that we do not know how to identify which ones will and which ones won’t yet.  How best to treat DCIS, and even whether to consider it cancer, remain controversial and many women have undergone invasive procedures and toxic therapies that they probably should not have been subjected to.  See my recent article Breast Cancer Action Webinar Discusses Screening Mammography and Breast Cancer Overdiagnosis for more information.

Exercise Does Have Benefits For Invasive Breast Cancer

Interestingly, previous studies have shown that exercise does have value and protective benefits against invasive breast cancer.

There are many studies which have discovered that physically active menopausal women have a decreased chance of developing invasive breast cancer compared to their not-so-active menopausal counterparts.

Even though, according to the European study discussed above, exercise does not necessarily confer protective benefits against developing non-invasive breast cancer, it still carries so many other positive benefits and I will continue to recommend regular exercise to women.


Welch HG, Black WC. Using Autopsy Series To Estimate the Disease “Reservoir” for Ductal Carcinoma in Situ of the Breast: How Much More Breast Cancer Can We Find? Annals of Internal Medicine 1997; 127 (11) 1023-1028.

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Natural Remedies for Chemo-Related Constipation

Toilet sittingNatural Remedies for Chemo-Related Constipation

Going through chemotherapy and having constipation is NOT fun.  I mean, it’s not bad enough that you’re going through chemotherapy, you’ve lost your hair, now you gotta have this problem too?  I can SO sympathize with you.

Just so we’re clear, you are considered to be constipated if you have fewer than three difficult bowel movements in a week.  Which is not much!

My oncologist gave me a couple of recommendations but I wasn’t crazy about them – they were all pharmaceuticals and I prefer to use the things that nature has provided us (which is why it took me four months to make my decision about doing chemotherapy!).

So I searched further afield (let’s face it, I was motivated!) and found some more natural things to help.  When I had my next office visit with him, he asked how I was doing with the constipation and I told him I had a good herbal formula that was working for me he exasperatedly said to me (laughing) “Do you listen to anything I tell you?”  I guess he wasn’t used to having patients do things their own way.

My List of Recommendations for Constipation

  • Eat foods high in fiber like nuts, bran, vegetables, legumes, freshly ground flaxseed, whole wheat breads and pastas, and fruits
  • Drink 2-3 liters of non-alcoholic fluids (water, juices) each day, unless you are told otherwise by your doctor
  • Avoid sodas, coffee, alcohol and caffeine-containing drinks, which can have a diuretic effect and worsen constipation
  • Exercise 20-30 minutes most days of the week, as tolerated, and if okay with your doctor.  A lot of patients find that walking for exercise is convenient and easy to do
  • Take 2 tsp of freshly-ground flaxseed two-three times per day
  • Try drinking a glass of lukewarm or hot water just after you wake up. The warmth helps stimulate your intestines so that they start moving
  • Try my herbal formula (recipe below)
  • If you hate the herbal (and some will), try the Prune, Fig & Raisin tea recipe below

My naturopath in Perth, Sue Bartoll, made a herbal formula for me and she’s been kind enough to share the recipe. You will still probably want or need a naturopath or herbalist to blend this for you.  You may have to convert milliliters to ounces but most measuring devices have both these days.

Constipation Herbal

40 ml Senna

30 ml Golden Seal

40 ml Fennel

50 ml Butternut

5 ml Ginger

40 ml Liquorice

Dosage 5mls 2 x day with water or juice. Start with 2.5mls twice a day and increase over the next 2 days to full dosage. Sue says: “Please note that everyone is individual and may require another prescription that is appropriate for the person’s symptoms.”

Prune, Fig & Raisin Tea

Cut up about 12 organic figs and place them in a saucepan together with about 12 organic prunes and 2 tbsp organic raisins.  Cover with 1 liter (4 cups) of filtered water and simmer for about 30 minutes.  If desired, lemon juice may be added to vary the flavor.  Drink the tea before breakfast and dinner time.  You can make this ahead the night before and refrigerate.

Why Constipation Occurs with Chemotherapy

Because anticancer drugs are made to kill rapidly growing cells, they also affect normal, fast-growing cells such as blood cells forming in the bone marrow and cells in the digestive tract (i.e., mouth, stomach, intestines, esophagus), reproductive system, and hair follicles. Some anticancer drugs may affect cells of vital organs, such as the heart, kidney, bladder, lungs, and nervous system.

The anti-nausea drugs and steroids used during chemotherapy can also cause constipation.  It may take a few days after your infusion before your bowels return to normal.  Diarrhea can also occur as the microflora in the bowel is destroyed by the chemo drugs.

I noticed that “things” just seemed to grind to a halt the day after my infusions, which was very uncomfortable.  Once I started taking the above herbal though, it helped me a lot.  I found it helped for me to take the herbal the day before an infusion and then to continue it until things normalized, usually 2-4 days later.

If These Occur, See Your Doctor Right Away

Sometimes, chemo-related constipation can get out of hand.  If you get any of these symptoms, see your doctor right away:

      • Pain in your stomach
      • Fever
      • Unable to pass gas
      • Nausea, and/or vomiting along with your constipation
      • If you have not had a bowel movement in three days despite following the above recommendations
      • If your stomach looks swollen and/or feels hard to the touch


“Better Health Through Natural Healing” by Ross Trattler, Harper Collins Publishers

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The Benefits of Exercise for Breast Cancer


Image Source: / Stuart Miles

The Benefits of Exercise for Breast Cancer

Exercising when you have breast cancer is one of the best things you can do for yourself.  In fact, it was one of the few things that my oncologist and I could agree upon!

After I was finished with all of my treatments, I took part in an Australian study on the benefits of exercise after breast cancer.  I joined a gym and  attended at least three days per week – even though there were many days when I really was not in the mood to go, I went anyway.  I did this for eight weeks, and at the conclusion of the study I felt so much better, I just kept up with my gym membership and continued going.  I also did yoga and walking on the days when I wasn’t in the gym.

Exercising made sense to me, for several reasons:

  1. Research shows that excess fat on your body puts you at a higher risk for breast cancer (and I didn’t want it back!)
  2. It helps your body detox after all the treatments
  3. Exercise brings fresh oxygen into your body and I was aware that cancer HATES oxygen, it thrives in anaerobic conditions
  4. It increases muscle strength and bone density and reduces risk of injury
  5. It lowers blood pressure
  6. All those feel-good endorphins that exercise releases help psychological health
  7. It prolongs life by fortifying your immune system, helping you control weight and providing you with energy and stamina

Research Shows Exercise Helps With Radiotherapy, Depression, Anxiety

In 1997, a group of researchers in the UK followed 46 women beginning a six-week program of radiation therapy for early stage breast cancer.  The exercise group scored significantly higher than the group that didn’t exercise on physical functioning and symptom intensity, particularly fatigue, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. [1]

Another research study done in the UK in 1998 followed 24 breast cancer survivors (mean time following surgery 41.8 months; ranging from 1 to 99 months) with an average age of 48.9 years.  They were followed for 10 weeks and asked to do aerobic exercise 4 days per week, 30-40 minutes/session.  The study revealed that women who exercised had significantly less depression and anxiety compared to those who did not exercise. [2]

2017 Update:  Yoga and other mind-body interventions can play a large part of the healing process as well. A 2017 review of 18 research studies looked at how yoga and other mind-body interventions such as qi gong, tai chi and meditation impacted health. The researchers found mind-body interventions change the expression of genes associated with chronic inflammation (and we all know that cancer is an inflammatory process), as well as having many other wide-ranging health benefits. [3]

What Sort of Exercise Is Best?

This is a hotly debated topic.  Some think that you need to get out there and sweat and work your butt off for exercise to be therapeutic but that simply isn’t the case.  A good 45-minute yoga session can be just as effective on body and mind as going for a run.

Some outgoing women love to dance and will join dance classes.  Some prefer gentle stretching and the mind/body connection that yoga provides, while others would much rather go for a solo walk in the woods with their dog.  My best advice is to do what you love because you are more apt to do it more frequently if you love it.

Hate to Exercise?

If you don’t love exercise, here are some ideas for you:

  • Get a stationary bicycle and read while you’re on it – or watch your favorite TV show
  • Walk or run to the grocery store to buy one or two items
  • Try Zumba, it’s a blast
  • Water aerobics can be fun
  • Buy a yoga or dance or aerobics DVD by somebody who’s nice to look at!
  • Try belly dancing or tennis or roller blading
  • Get a workout buddy and make a pact to keep exercising even when you don’t feel like it – research shows that if someone else’s workout depends on yours, you will be more likely to exercise, so as not to disappoint or let down the other person
  • Get an iPod and choose music you love to exercise to and put that on a playlist – music can be a great distraction
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator or park your car at the far end of the parking lot
  • If your kids have a PlayStation or Wii, there are dancing games and fitness programs you might enjoy
  • Gardening is good exercise
  • Hiking is rewarding and great exercise
  • Play Frisbee with your kids or grandkids (or your dog!)

We have to stop thinking about exercise as a nuisance. Our bodies were designed to move!  Once you find the thing that you love to do, it becomes a joy and you really notice the difference on the days you don’t exercise.  So get out there and move!


[1] Effects of exercise on fatigue, physical functioning, and emotional distress during radiation therapy for breast cancer —;jsessionid=tUx3m0KS51NQDcfbZZjz.0

[2] The effect of aerobic exercise on self-esteem and depressive and anxiety symptoms among breast cancer survivors –

[3] What Is the Molecular Signature of Mind–Body Interventions? A Systematic Review of Gene Expression Changes Induced by Meditation and Related Practices –

GET MY BEST TIPS on healthy ways to beat breast cancer and prevent recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right.  You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates.  I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.  

8 Crucial Things to Reduce Chemotherapy Side Effects

8 Crucial Things to Reduce Chemotherapy Side Effects

Image Source: / creativedoxfoto

8 Crucial Things to Reduce Chemotherapy Side Effects

Anyone going through chemotherapy will know that there is a diverse range of side effects, ranging from mild to severe, and some are quite disruptive to your quality of life, hence today’s article.

I went through breast cancer in 2004 and although I initially chose not to have chemotherapy, a few things factored into my decision and led me to believe it would be beneficial for me so I went through 6 months of various chemotherapy drugs.  I have to say that the anti-nausea pills that are prescribed these days do a remarkably good job. I never once vomited during the entire 6 months of my chemotherapy regimen – that really surprised me!  I managed to stay incredibly well during the entire process and I’d like to share my list of the things that helped me the most.

Quite possibly you may have different results but if even only one thing on the list helps you, I’ll be happy with that result!

Here’s my list of the 8 crucial things that helped me reduce chemotherapy side effects:

1.  Meditation & Positive Thinking – the first thing I had to do was to quit thinking about the chemotherapy in a negative light – like it was something to be scared of.  I worked hard on this and managed to come up with a meditation that I would do each time I sat down for the treatment (if you’d like to sign up for my newsletters, I’ll share the exact meditation I did with you).  I envisioned the drugs entering my system as being a healing golden or white light (use a color that works for you personally) that moved through my entire body and eradicated any little weakling of a cancer cell (also important to think of the cancer cells as weak and easily overcome by the chemotherapy).  This was a very calming thing to do and helped with anxiety.

2. Juicing of Organic Fruit & Vegetables – I juiced in the morning before my chemotherapy appointments (and every morning afterward too) and took the juice with me in a stainless steel thermos.  I sipped it once I’d finished my meditation.  My favorite was a combination of carrot, beet (a potent anti-cancer veggie), apple and ginger.  Fresh ginger helps a lot with nausea and adds a spicy zest to the juice.  You don’t need too much, just about a 1″ knob of it.  I juiced every morning – for more information on the best things to juice, go to my page Diet and Cancer

3.  Supplementation – Certain supplements can actually increase the effectiveness of your chemotherapy, reduce the toxicity of it and help you to sail through chemotherapy without too much trouble. Contact me if you’d like a list of them.

4. Yoga and Walking – it is so important to keep moving!  If you’re tired, just slow down and do what you can.  Movement therapy helps you to detox, it helps your state of mind, it even helps constipation.

5.  Acupuncture   Believe it or not, acupuncture can help to reduce the side effects and toxicity of the chemotherapy. It can also help to reduce the chances of suffering with chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). If you begin your course of acupuncture at around the same time as you commence chemotherapy, it has the absolute best protective effect for your nerves.

6. The Power of Prayer – don’t underestimate this!  Tell your friends when you’re going for each dose of chemotherapy and have them spend 5 minutes actively saying a prayer for you to coincide with your appointment time.  You will be amazed at how uplifted you feel.  Powerful stuff.  I did this prior to surgery too.

7.  Laughter – I had a best friend who’d take along some kind of gag gift or joke book or something silly – she’d get the whole place chuckling.  Laughter is good medicine!

8. Massage or Reiki – get some bodywork regularly.  It makes a huge difference to how you feel when going through chemotherapy.

The combination of these 8 things got me through 6 months of chemotherapy with a minimum of side effects and problems.  I hope this helps you!

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