I have written in the past about the profound effects that exercise and diet have on reducing the risks of cancer. Given the heightened awareness of breast cancer following October’s Breast Cancer Awareness month, I thought I should focus on breast cancer. Before I share some recent research on weight and breast cancer, I wanted to focus on something that is often ignored regarding breast cancer; shoulder function. This might seem trivial given the life threatening nature of the disease, but losing the function of your arm, in addition to the struggles and suffering that comes along with the breast cancer diagnosis, is a big deal. More importantly, it doesn’t need to happen. Women post-mastectomy often suffer significant loss of shoulder function on the affected side due to significant trauma resulting from breast tissue removal and reconstruction. As a physical therapist, it is not uncommon to witness this. Physicians can do a great service to their patients by educating their patients about the need to address shoulder function pre and post-mastectomy to reduce pain and dysfunction. The standard for post-mastectomy patients should be a full return to activity, as we are long past the notion that these patients are simply lucky to survive. Unfortunately, recommendations for women to seek physical therapy when they are having reconstructive procedures is relatively rare. Please be sure to let anyone you know undergoing mastectomy or reconstructive procedures related to breast cancer that they should request a referral to physical therapy. It makes a significant difference in their shoulder function and quality of life. Recent research about fat mass and breast cancer Majed B. et al from Paris studied women who survived breast cancer and the reoccurrence of breast cancer on the opposite side over 10 years. The results, released in the Sep 26, 2010 issue of Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, found that those who were overweight or obese were 50% more likely to have breast cancer on the contralateral side. They also found that those with cancer had a poorer prognosis if they were overweight or obese. Another recent study, showed that not only being overwight increased risk factors of breast cancer, but gaining weight increased post menopausal breast cancer risks. Manders P. and colleagues from Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam found that women who were overweight, gained 5 kg or more body weight, and 20 percent or more body weight were 46 percent, 56 percent and 60 percent more likely to develop postmenopausal breast cancer, respectively. Clearly, many factors contribute to risks for breast cancer, some completely out of our control. There is a huge emphasis on the need of early detection and proper medication, which has saved lives. Hopefully there will be a huge emphasis on using exercise and diet to reduce risk factors and improve function. This is something that we do have control of, and we know has a significant effect. One day we will see physicians referring breast cancer patients for diet and exercise therapy: that would be true preventative health progress!