“Where cancer is concerned, exercise and a healthy diet are as important as medication”

Doctors and coordinators at the programme's launch at the Clínico Universitario hospital.
Doctors and coordinators at the programme's launch at the Clínico Universitario hospital. / Álvaro Cabrera
  • Physical exercise reduces the risk of breast cancer patients getting the illness again and it improves the survival rate

Physical exercise and a healthy diet are a way of preventing cancer. The director of the Medical Oncology units at the Carlos Haya and Clínico Universitario hospitals in Malaga, says it has been scientifically demonstrated that healthy lifestyle habits, including exercise and the Mediterranean diet, can be as effective as the best cancer drugs on the market.

Dr Alba made these comments while presenting a pioneer programme aimed at aiding recovery for women who have undergone breast cancer surgery. The programme consists of three aspects: an exercise plan to suit each woman's physical condition; healthy eating (the Mediterranean diet) and check-ups to determine the degree of cognitive alterations which may be suffered by some patients after the treatment (mainly chemotherapy). These symptoms sometimes manifest themselves in memory or speech problems.

Dr Alba warned that excess weight is the second most common cause of cancer in the world and said it is a real problem, not only in the increase of tumours but also in metabolic and cardiovascular illnesses.

The Club de Salud para Mujeres Operadas de Cáncer de Mama (Health Club for Women after Breast Cancer Surgery) was launched by the regional government's provincial health delegate, Ana Isabel González; Dr Alba; the managers of the Carlos Haya and Clínico hospitals, Emiliano Nuevo and José Antonio Medina, respectively; the head of the project, oncologist Bella Pajares; Antonio Cuesta, a professor at the Physiotherapy department of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Malaga university; and the president of the ASAMMA association, Francisca Aguilar.

This initiative will help about 70 women a year to regain their health, and around 50 have benefited since the programme started last May. These patients are being monitored by the hospital and are given regular check-ups.

Very useful treatment

Professor Antonio Cuesta said that clinical tests which had been carried out had shown that physical exercise reduces the chance of getting cancer again and also reduces its negative effects on health.

Dr Pajares stressed that exercise not only increases the overall survival rate of patients in general, but specifically those who had had breast cancer. She particularly recommended that women who had undergone surgery for a breast tumour should take exercise, because it is very useful that it has no side effects and it is a cheap and effective weapon. “It is a treatment which should be carried on indefinitely, because it is very valuable indeed,” she insisted.

The president of ASAMMA explained that the association had donated 5,000 euros to collaborate in setting up the club for women who had undergone surgery for breast cancer. Dr Alba confirmed that financing was in place to continue the project in 2018.

Physiotherapist Cristina Roldán explained that women, when they join the programme, are often afraid to move about too much and, thanks to the training they are given, they learn to overcome the fear and appreciate the benefits of physical exercise.

Dietary expert María José de los Ríos said that most of the patients had not been following a healty diet, because they ate too much meat, cakes and biscuits, and sugar in general. After three months of training, they learned how to eat healthily and to follow the Mediterranean diet, she explained.

The survival rate after five years for women who have had a breast tumour is now 82 per cent. Dr Alba said that: “We are now able to say that the survival rate after breast cancer at the two big hospitals in Malaga is one of the best of those published in scientific literature. The challenge now is to improve these results as much as possible with less aggressive treatments.”