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Overall Health May Be Key to Beating Breast Cancer

WEDNESDAY, April 6 (HealthDay News) -- Poor overall health seems to be associated with worse outcomes for breast cancer survivors, according to the results of a new study.

Researchers analyzed data from almost 9,400 early stage breast cancer survivors participating in the After Breast Cancer Pooling Project. The patients completed a health assessment survey shortly after diagnosis, and follow-up occurred an average of seven years after diagnosis.

The survey results showed that about half the women were in poor physical health. Higher body mass index (a measurement that takes into account a person's height and weight) was strongly associated with low physical health scores, said the team at the University of California San Diego Moores Cancer Center.

Women with poor physical health scores had a 27 percent increased risk of experiencing either a recurrence of their breast cancer or a new breast cancer, and a 65 percent increased risk of death from any cause, the researchers said.

The researchers also found that breast cancer survivors with low health scores were less physically active, more likely to have sleep problems, had 50 percent higher rates of high blood pressure and diabetes, and were twice as likely to have arthritis.

The study was slated for presentation Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), in Orlando, Fla. Experts note that research presented at meetings has not been subjected to the same type of rigorous scrutiny given to research published in peer-reviewed medical journals.

Taking care of health problems in breast cancer survivors can improve their well-being and help them avoid associated breast cancer risks, said John P. Pierce, a professor of cancer prevention and associate director for population sciences at Moores Cancer Center.

"Instead of looking at breast cancer survivors as a whole, we need to focus on the women with low physical health scores, those most at risk," he said in an AACR news release. "An increase of 5 percent in their physical health scores can reduce their risk. We can empower them to take charge of their health and thereby improve their chance of survival as well as their quality of life."

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about breast cancer.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Association for Cancer Research, news release, April 6, 2011

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