Having stage 4 breast cancer may lead to periods of weight gain and weight loss. Making changes to your diet can help to offset this.
Women with breast cancer might gain weight for several reasons. These include:
- financial stress
- fluid retention from chemotherapy
- less energy for physical activity
- strain from relationships at home and work
- taking steroids, which can cause also cause fluid retention
One study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention concluded that breast cancer survivors gain weight at a faster rate than women who’ve never had cancer.
The study found that women with estrogen receptor-negative tumors who were treated with chemotherapy and took statins at the same time had significantly higher weight gain rates than women with breast cancer who didn’t take statins during treatment.
Some women may also find taking hormone therapies, like tamoxifen, can cause them to gain weight.
Not all women with stage 4 breast cancer experience weight gain. Some may experience significant weight loss due to lack of appetite. Side effects from cancer treatments and medications can include nausea, diarrhea, and reduced appetite.
Even if you’ve experienced weight gain with stage 4 breast cancer, doctors don’t usually recommend a strict diet. Instead, your focus can be on making healthy food choices with enough nutrients to support immune cell growth. Here are a few good habits you might try to adopt:
- Eat several small meals throughout the day. This can reduce the effects of nausea and help you keep your energy up.
- Incorporate lean protein sources. Protein is vital for tissue and cell repair. Examples of high-protein foods include chicken, eggs, low-fat dairy, nuts, beans, and soy foods.
- Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables each day. Eating a nutritious profile of colorful fruits and vegetables can provide immune-boosting antioxidants.
- Stay hydrated by drinking at least 64 ounces of water a day. Drinking enough water can prevent dehydration.
- Keep high-calorie foods on hand for days when you may not feel like eating as much. Examples include milkshakes and prepared supplement drinks, smoothies, crackers and nut butter, and trail mixes.
Talk to your doctor about a plan for your individual nutritional needs. They might recommend increasing certain foods or drinks and limiting others.
Nutrition and nausea
On days when you’re experiencing strong bouts of nausea, there are some nutritional steps you can take to keep your energy levels up. These include:
- Eating foods or drinking beverages that contain ginger, like ginger ale or ginger tea.
- Eating meals that are reheated instead of cooked. These meals tend to produce fewer odors that can trigger nausea and food avoidance.
- Drinking lemonade or lemon water, which can help reduce nausea.
- Choosing bland foods that are easy to digest, such as apples, toast, saltine crackers, broth, and bananas.
- Refraining from eating foods that are produce flavor extremes, like meals that are very spicy, sweet, or greasy.
Even when you don’t feel like eating, trying to stay hydrated can help until you feel more like eating.
Exercise is important for your overall mental and physical health. Since fatigue is often a symptom associated with stage 4 breast cancer, it can help to plan your exercise during your most energetic time of day.
Consistency is key. It’s better to exercise in small amounts every day than to follow an extreme pattern of occasional intense activity between long periods of inactivity.
While there are potential benefits to exercise when you have stage 4 cancer, it’s important to talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.
If your blood counts are low or your electrolyte levels (potassium, sodium, and more) are imbalanced, most doctors won’t recommend exercising because you could put yourself at risk of further harm. Also, a doctor may recommend avoiding public places, like gyms, because of risks of germ exposure.
Safety is always a concern when you have stage 4 breast cancer. Bleeding and risks of injury are important considerations.
Some women experience balance and foot numbness problems due to their treatments and fatigue. If this is the case, it’s best to do exercises that put you at less risk of falls. An example could be riding a stationary bicycle instead of running on a treadmill.
There might not be a direct link between exercise and stage 4 breast cancer survival rates, but you can reap other benefits from regular exercise. For example, it may help you:
- lose excess body fat
- increase your body strength
- increase your energy
- reduce your stress
- improve your mood
- improve your quality of life
- reduce side effects from treatment
Your doctor can help you develop an exercise routine that fits your physical needs and abilities. Ultimately, it’s important that you listen to your body and don’t push yourself on the days when you aren’t feeling up to working out.
There may be an in-person support group where you receive treatments, but you can also find online and social media groups to join. Find support from others who are living with breast cancer. Download Healthline’s free app here.
Your doctor can also provide more information about your cancer specifics, treatment options, and support programs in your area. If you’re not sure where to look for an in-person group, a counselor or social worker can also help.