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Life after breast cancer: Get stronger with exercise

Many women who have undergone a breast lumpectomy or mastectomy for breast cancer treatment find it uncomfortable to wear a bra, including sports bras. The areas on the chest and arms that the bra touches can be sensitive, and even painful. But research shows that exercise is important to breast cancer survivors and can reduce the risk of recurrence by 30 percent.

Finding a comfortable sports bra, so you can begin to reintroduce exercise into your wellness plan, can be challenging. Here are my tips for how to find a sport bra that works for you:

  1. Begin by looking for a sports bra in a store that has a large selection.
  2. Choose a time when you are not rushed, tired or busy so you have plenty of time to try many bras.
  3. Opt for soft fabrics and designs that do not have seams that will touch your incision scars.
  4. Look for wide, soft bands at the shoulder and under the breast/around the chest.
  5. It can be helpful to find a sports bra that is adjustable in the back, in case you have occasional swelling in your breast tissue.
  6. The sports bra should have some contouring in the cup area so it does not smash sensitive breast tissues.
  7. If your skin is extremely sensitive, try wearing a tight-fitting camisole under your bra to help in areas where the bra rubs the skin.

If you cannot find an appropriate bra at a department store, there are specialty shops that specializes in mastectomy bras (search online for "mastectomy bras MN"). If you experience a lot of sensitivity and pain on scars or swelling in your breast, ask your doctor for a referral to a certified lymphedema therapist (someone who specializes in treatment of fluid just beneath the skin). These specialists can often help women find a solution that works.

Why exactly is exercise so important for breast cancer survivors? Here are the ways exercise can improve your life:

  • Lower cancer risk. Doing 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise reduces the risk of breast cancer recurrence up to 30 percent.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is associated with higher cancer recurrence risk, and exercise is a major contributor to weight control. Breast cancer survivors often develop treatment related weight gain from hormonal and metabolic changes of treatment.
  • Less severe side effects. Breast cancer patients who have had some types of chemotherapy and radiation therapy have effects on the heart and lung tissue. Regular exercise can boost your endurance and help your heart and lungs work more efficiently.
  • Increases self-esteem. Research studies show that exercise reduces stress, anxiety, fatigue and depression. You also might feel better about yourself and your appearance if you exercise regularly.
  • Better mobility. Weight lifting and upper body exercises have been shown to reduce the risk of developing arm lymphedema. Over time, careful stretching exercises can improve range of motion issues in your arm and shoulder.
  • Healthy bones. Breast cancer patients are at risk for early and accelerated osteoporosis that is reduced by weight-bearing exercise (walking) and strength training with weights.

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