What Might Cause Me to Gain Weight?

Many things can play a role.

Chemotherapy can bring on premature menopause. And with it comes a slowing of the metabolism. That makes it harder to keep weight off. Menopause also causes you to gain more body fat and lose lean muscle.

It’s common for women who have chemotherapy to gain about 5 to 14 pounds over a year. Some gain less, while others put on as many as 25 pounds.

Another reason for weight gain is the use of corticosteroids. These medications help with nausea and swelling, or to stop reactions to chemotherapy. These drugs can boost your appetite. Corticosteroids are hormones that can also cause an increase in fatty tissue. They can make you lose muscle mass in your arms and legs, and gain belly fat, too. You may also have a fullness of the neck or face. Loss of muscle makes weight gain more apparent.

Women treated with steroids may also put on pounds, but the weight gain is usually seen only after weeks of continuous use.

Some research suggests that weight gain is also related to lack of exercise . When you get your cancer treatment, it’s common to feel stress and have some fatigue, nausea, or pain. That can lead to a drop in how much physical activity you get.

Weight gain may also be related to intense food cravings. Some women crave sweets and carbohydrates during chemotherapy. Too much of these foods can lead to added pounds.

The Weight Battle

Dietitians offer strategies for controlling weight after cancer treatment

Michelle Churches plans ahead to make sure the easiest food to prepare is the healthiest.

Michelle Churches walks 11,000 steps during her 10-hour nursing shift at an outpatient surgery center in Trenton.

She knows this because she wears a pedometer. After walking those 11,000 steps, she comes home and pulls together a homemade dinner in about 30 minutes. She chats with her husband and kids, cleans up the kitchen and heads out to walk the dog. Some weeks, depending on her work schedule, she’ll fit in an extra 12-hour shift to help fund a gift she wants to give her three children: a debtfree ride through college.

To say that Churches is active would draw an affectionate chuckle from her friends. When the season is right, Churches has been known to work from dawn to dusk in her herb garden, stopping only long enough for occasional water breaks. So when she was diagnosed in 2005 with breast cancer, weight wasn’t a concern for her. She was 5 feet 7 inches and 138 pounds. But after a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy, Churches has found it’s more difficult to maintain her weight.

“I work my butt off so that now when I look at a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, I have a little calculator in my head: How much will it take to burn this off? Is it worth it?” she says.

At the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center, dietitians Joan Daniels and Nancy Burke spend a lot of time helping people prevent weight loss during treatment. But they also see patients who struggle to lose weight after cancer treatment. This is particularly true of breast and prostate cancer patients who receive hormone therapy. Certain chemotherapy regimens also may cause patients to lose muscle and gain fat tissue.

It may be more difficult to lose weight, but Daniels and Burke stress that it’s still important to try to control what you can: diet and exercise.

Weight-Loss Tips

  • Keep a food log. You may be eating more than you think.
  • Pay attention to what you drink. Sodas and sugary coffee drinks often contain a lot of calories.
  • Cut back on butter and oil. Use herbs to flavor foods instead.
  • Make meat secondary. Fill your plate with vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Think of lean meats and low-fat dairy products as side dishes.
  • Consider strength-building exercises if you have lost muscle or gained fat tissue.

“The bottom line is that you can manage your weight, but it takes a lot more effort,” Daniels said. “You have to exercise more and you have to cut back your food more.”

Depression may also be an underlying factor that needs to be addressed, Daniels said. Sometimes the full psychological impact of cancer doesn’t hit until a patient is into post-treatment survivorship. This can interfere with exercise regimens or cause people to binge.

Exercise can help reduce depression and anxiety as well as lower the risk of recurrence. One strategy Burke recommends for patients seeking to lose weight is to find an activity they enjoy to boost their commitment to exercising. For Churches, gardening is a great workout and also keeps her kitchen stocked during part of the year with healthy fruits, vegetables and herbs. Late last fall, as the season was ending, Churches was preparing to dry herbs to season foods during the winter months.

Churches uses herbs as a way to boost flavors without adding fat. Staying organized also makes eating healthier easier: Churches stocks the pantry with good choices so healthy snacks are always within reach. S he prepares meals ahead of time so that there’s very little work to do to get the meal on the table after work. The Churcheses limit take-out to Wednesday nights when they splurge on a pizza or Mexican food.

“All the women in my family cook like this. My mom always said, ‘Fast food is nothing but poison,'” Churches said, pausing to admit her guilty pleasure: Diet Coke. “My mom always had stuff she could throw together simply, and I do, too. I practice what I preach.”

Michelle Churches’s Chenin Blanc Chicken

Print the Chenin Blank Chicken recipe.


  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1/4c. Chenin Blanc white wine
  • zest of one lemon
  • juice from ½ lemon
  • 2 cloves of pressed garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • pinch of pepper

1 to 2 lbs chicken, cubed
red or black seedless grapes
Minced flat-leaf parsley
Skewers, soaked in water 30 minutes

In a non-reactive bowl, whisk together the marinade ingredients until well emulsified. Toss the chicken with the marinade and refrigerate overnight.

Skewer chicken, alternating with grapes. Heat grill or grill pan over medium heat. Cook skewers until chicken juices run clear, about 3 minutes on each side. Grapes should puff and caramelize.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Get more weight-loss tips and healthy eating ideas:

  • Comfort Foods
  • Fads Fade Fast, But Healthy Eating Sticks
  • Bounty of the Mediterranean
  • Plant-based Diets: Why all the Hype?

Learn more about the side effects of cancer treatment:

  • Keeping Up Appearances (lymphedema, hair loss)
  • Clearing the Mind: Coping with Chemobrain
  • When to Ask for Help (pain, numbness)
  • Life After Treatment (anxiety)

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Post-Mastectomy Weight Gain

Q1. I had chemo treatments for breast cancer, and my last one was in July. I have gained 40 pounds since my mastectomy in January. I am eating healthily and walking 2.5 miles a day but cannot lose any weight. Any ideas why the weight isn’t going away?

— Susie, Kentucky

The most common reason that women become heavier after completing chemotherapy or after starting anti-estrogen therapy for breast cancer is menopause. Many women do gain weight after going through menopause because their metabolism slows. A drastic reduction in calories and an increase in aerobic physical activity are often necessary to keep this weight gain to a minimum.

Forty pounds is a lot of weight, depending on where you started. Perseverance and willpower are necessary to seize control of this problem. The simple fixes, fad diets, diet pills, and so on rarely provide long-term weight loss. A commitment to aerobic exercise (20 minutes a day, five days a week) and to healthier eating habits (minimizing sodas, packaged foods, and eating out, and increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, and grains) will help you lose weight and may even lower your risk for breast cancer recurrence.

Q2. I have metastatic breast cancer, which spread to the liver. I would like to have a “tummy tuck” and some liposuction done. Would this cause any problems?

I’m not sure from your question whether you currently have liver cancer or if it has been successfully treated. If it has been treated and is no longer active, you could entertain the possibility of having liposuction and a tummy tuck, provided, of course, that your surgeon and your oncologist are communicating and are in agreement on the safety of doing the procedure.

Q3. A couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. During my last chemo, because I have thalassemia anemia and my white blood cell count was very low, I started to feel dizzy. My doctor decided to give me an IV. Within three days, I started to blow up like a balloon. Now, a year and a half later, I look the same. I am depressed because of my weight and everything else that happened. I’m contemplating taking acai berry supplements, which I’ve heard help with weight loss. My oncologist told me that I am not supposed to take these pills. What is your opinion?

— Vicky, South Dakota

I suspect the IV that made you balloon up was some formulation of iron, which is commonly low during and after chemotherapy, but particularly so in patients with blood conditions like thalassemia. However, I also suspect that your persistent weight gain is not related to IV iron. Weight gain after chemotherapy, especially in younger women, is quite common. In addition, if you start endocrine therapy (tamoxifen or any of the aromatase inhibitors), weight gain is a common side effect. The reason is menopausal changes in the body. There is a typical “reset” at a higher weight after entering menopause, whether it is caused naturally or chemically (by chemotherapy or endocrine therapy). Finally, if you are using an antidepressant, weight gain, again, is a common side effect.

Losing weight is a challenge in any setting, but particularly for patients who have undergone cancer treatment. In the end, you may require a comprehensive diet and exercise program to get the job done. There are no shortcuts. Acai berry is a strong antioxidant, but I am not sure the claims that it’s a terrific weight-loss aid are valid. Whether you can take acai as a cancer survivor is not clear to me either, but running the concept by your pharmacist to find out whether there could be serious interactions with your other medications is certainly a good idea.

Q4. I am 64 and had surgery for DCIS in September of 2004. The Femara (letrozole) is giving me horrible side effects — my hands and feet are swollen, I am exhausted, my hair is thin and I am so unhappy. I want to go off the Femara and just not take anything. My doctor said it is “my call.” For me, the side effects of these drugs prevent me from having a normal life. What are my chances of breast cancer returning? I was on the hormone replacement therapy and I know that is what gave me breast cancer in the first place. We have no breast cancer in the family.

It is important to remember that DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) is pre-cancer. Screening worked well in your case to detect a potential harmful lesion. The role of estrogen-blocking drugs (letrozole, tamoxifen and others) is still murky. Most oncologists, myself included, recommend a try with these drugs. However, we are not firmly set in their use. Given the horrible side effects you are experiencing, stopping the drug is one option. Alternatively, you could try tamoxifen (an estrogen receptor blocker) or aromasin (a steroid-based drug that works similarly to letrozole). Both these drugs might be more tolerable in your case. Regardless of what you choose, the most important aspect of your care is continued aggressive monitoring for breast cancer.

Learn more in the Everyday Health Breast Cancer Center.

Double Mastectomy: Recovery Time, What to Expect, and More

Your doctor will explain the medical specifics. Here are some other things to consider in advance:

The drive home

Your surgeon will advise you not to drive, but they might not think to mention that the seatbelt’s shoulder harness can hurt your sore chest. Bring a small, soft pillow to place between your chest and the strap.

What you’ll wear

Inventory your wardrobe and go shopping, if necessary. When you leave the hospital, you’ll still have drainage tubes in your chest. They’ll remain in place for at least a week or two, maybe longer. Your chest and arms will be sore and stiff.

Buy loose-fitting tops that are easy to put on and take off. Choose soft, natural fabrics. Specialty stores carry camisoles and tops with pockets for the drainage bulbs. Or you can clip the bulb to your clothing. A large zip-up hoodie is a good option.

If you’re not having reconstruction and plan to wear prosthetics, hold off on buying mastectomy bras for now. Your size will change as your swelling goes down.

When you’re ready, your doctor will write a prescription for prosthetics and mastectomy bras, which may be covered by insurance.

What you’ll eat

You may not feel up to cooking, so do what you can in advance. Stock your kitchen and, if time permits, prepare a few meals for the freezer.

How you’ll nest

What helps you feel good? A thick novel, aromatherapy, your grandmother’s afghan? Make sure it’s within easy reach of your favorite comfy chair or sofa.

How you’ll enlist help

Your friends mean well when they say, “Let me know if I can do anything.” But don’t leave it to chance — get your calendar out and get commitments now. Consider babysitting, transportation, and meals.

Do you want to be left alone or do you thrive on friends dropping by? Will there be holidays or special events during your recovery? Now’s the time to lay it all out and let people know what you need.

What you’ll do if you need more help

Make a list of organizations you can contact if needed. Consider babysitting, housecleaning services, and transportation. The American Cancer Society provides a wealth of information on support programs and services in your area. A local support group may also be a good resource for information from others who have had similar experiences.

How you’ll manage your emotions

With or without reconstruction, having a double mastectomy can be an emotional experience. Know up front that whatever feelings you have are valid. You’re allowed to have positive and negative emotions and every type in between.

Don’t beat yourself up over any of them. They’re normal. Things won’t change overnight, so give yourself time to sort through it all.

Some women who’ve been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in one breast choose to have that breast and the other healthy breast removed — a double mastectomy. Removing the other healthy breast is called contralateral prophylactic mastectomy.

The healthy breast usually is removed because of an understandable fear that a new, second breast cancer might develop in that breast. More and more women who’ve been diagnosed are opting for contralateral prophylactic mastectomy — in the late 1990s, between 4% and 6% of women who were having mastectomy decided to have the other healthy breast removed. Research published in 2016 found that rates of prophylactic mastectomy more than tripled from 2002 to 2012, even though other studies have shown that removing the other healthy breast doesn’t improve survival.

A new study has found that nearly half of women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer considered having a double mastectomy and one in six — about 17% — had the surgery, including many women who were at low risk of developing a second breast cancer.

The study was published online on Dec. 21, 2016 by JAMA Surgery. Read the abstract of “Contralateral Prophylactic Mastectomy Decisions in a Population-Based Sample of Patients With Early-Stage Breast Cancer.”

In the study, the researchers surveyed 2,402 women who were newly diagnosed with stage 0, stage I, or stage II breast cancer between July 2013 and September 2014. The researchers asked about:

  • the women’s knowledge of contralateral prophylactic mastectomy
  • why they chose the type of surgery they did
  • the factors they considered when making their surgery decision
  • the type of surgery, if any, their doctor recommended
  • any discussions they had with their doctor about surgery

The results:

  • Overall, 43.9% of the women considered contralateral prophylactic mastectomy and 24.8% considered it strongly or very strongly.
  • Only 38.1% of the women knew that contralateral prophylactic mastectomy doesn’t improve survival for all women diagnosed with breast cancer. In most cases, removing the other healthy breast improves survival only for women at high risk of a second breast cancer: women with a genetic mutation linked to breast cancer, such as an abnormal BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, or women with a strong family history of the disease.
  • Almost all the women said peace of mind motivated them to choose contralateral prophylactic mastectomy.
  • Overall rates of surgery by type were:
    • 61.6% lumpectomy
    • 21.2% single mastectomy
    • 17.3% contralateral prophylactic mastectomy

The researchers found that certain factors were linked to a higher likelihood of a woman having contralateral prophylactic mastectomy, including:

  • being younger
  • being white
  • having more education
  • having a family history of breast cancer
  • having private insurance

About 65% of the women did not have a genetic mutation linked to breast cancer:

  • Among these women, 39.3% said their surgeon recommended against contralateral prophylactic mastectomy; about 2% of these women had contralateral prophylactic mastectomy anyway.
  • Among the 46.8% of these women who got no recommendation for or against contralateral prophylactic mastectomy, 19% decided to have contralateral prophylactic mastectomy.

“That one in six breast cancer patients chose bilateral mastectomy is really striking,” said study author Reshma Jagsi, M.D., professor and deputy chair of radiation oncology at the University of Michigan. “We knew it was increasing, but I don’t think many of us realized just how frequent this is.

“At a time when emotions are running high, it’s not surprising that newly diagnosed breast cancer patients might find it difficult to absorb this complex information. It seems logical that more aggressive surgery should be better at fighting disease — but that’s not how breast cancer works. It’s a real communication challenge,” she added. “As physicians, we want to be respectful of our patients’ preferences and values. We don’t want to alienate patients who are already in a stressful situation. We want them to trust us. When a patient comes in saying she has already decided on double mastectomy, it can be challenging to strike that balance between respecting her preferences and adequately conveying why the medical community in general doesn’t think it’s necessary.”

When you’re first diagnosed with breast cancer, fears about the future can affect how you make decisions. This is especially true for women who have an abnormal breast cancer gene or who have watched a mother or sister be diagnosed with breast cancer. You have to make a number of decisions at a very emotional time when it can be hard to absorb and understand all the new information you’re being given.

At Breastcancer.org, we support every woman’s right to make treatment decisions based on the characteristics of the cancer she’s been diagnosed with, her medical history, her risk of recurrence or a new breast cancer, and her personal preferences. But it’s very important to make sure you understand all the pros and cons of any treatment or procedure you’re considering, including how the treatment or procedure may affect your reconstruction options and if the treatment is likely to make you live longer.

If you’ve been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, ask your doctor about ALL of your treatment and risk reduction options. Contralateral prophylactic mastectomy is only one of these options and is an aggressive step. While it may be the right decision for you, give yourself the time you need to consider the decision carefully. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about how the details in your pathology report may affect your future risk. You want to be sure that your decisions are based on your actual risk of recurrence or a new cancer. Make sure you understand the benefits and risks of all your options. Together, you and your doctor can make the choices that are best for you and your unique situation.

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Published on January 18, 2017 at 10:19 AM

Opting for Double Mastectomy May Mean More Complications

Although the overall likelihood for complications after mastectomy are rare, those women who choose to undergo a double mastectomy may experience a higher rate of certain surgical complications, according to a study (Abstract 62) to be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Breast Cancer Symposium.

“We think this information is critical to guide women contemplating having a double mastectomy,” lead author Mark Sisco, MD, clinical assistant professor of surgery at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine said at a press conference held ahead of the meeting. “While generally very safe, double mastectomy definitely increases the rate of certain complications, and while each woman is going to interpret these findings differently, they should be discussed and considered.”

According to Sisco, data shows that women with a single breast cancer are increasingly opting for double mastectomies despite evidence showing that survival is not improved with this procedure. This decision may be made for a variety of reasons, he said, including peace of mind, a desire for symmetry, or the ability to forgo mammograms.

However, there are few data on whether or not opting for a double mastectomy has any negative effects. In this study, Sisco and colleagues examined perioperative outcomes in women undergoing bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction compared with unilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. The study did not look at women undergoing prophylactic mastectomy.

Using data from the American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program, the researchers identified 18,229 women with breast cancer treated with mastectomy, 35.7% of which had a bilateral procedure (n = 6,502), and compared 30-day complication rates.

Of the identified patients, 88.6% undergoing bilateral procedure and 79.4% undergoing unilateral procedure chose to have implant-based reconstruction. Among those patients, a bilateral procedure was associated with a significantly higher rate of implant loss (1.0% vs 0.7% for unilateral). In addition, patients undergoing bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction had significantly higher rates of transfusion (0.8% vs 0.3% for unilateral) and reoperation after implant (7.6% vs 6.8% for unilateral).

Among those patients who underwent autologous reconstruction, the rate of transfusion was also significantly higher among women who had a bilateral procedure (7.9%) compared with a unilateral procedure (3.4%).

The researchers found no difference between the procedures for myocardial infarction, pneumonia, kidney failure, stroke, urinary tract infection, or blood clots.

Commenting on the results of this study, Harold J. Burstein, MD, PhD, FASCO, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, pointed out that overall the rate of serious complications for these procedures remains quite low.

“At the same time there is an increased risk of some rather potentially serious problems including infection, the possibility for the need for implant removal, and the need for blood transfusion,” Burstein said. “This is some of the first data we have seen that allows the surgical team to quantify for a woman who is deciding between single and double mastectomy what exactly the risks of the larger double operation might be.”

The shock of a breast cancer diagnosis, the disruption of your life, getting through and beyond treatment, the strain of relationships at home and at work, financial stress, and less physical activity all can contribute to weight gain or loss during treatment. While it’s more common for people to gain weight during and after treatment, some people lose weight.

Gaining or losing a few pounds is normal, but a considerable weight change — say 5% to 10% of your total body weight — could have an effect on your health.

Breast cancer treatments that are associated with weight gain or loss:

  • Ixempra (chemical name: ixabepilone), a chemotherapy medicine
  • hormonal therapy:
    • Arimidex (chemical name: anastrozole)
    • Aromasin (chemical name: exemestane)
    • Evista (chemical name: raloxifene)
    • Fareston (chemical name: toremifene)
    • Faslodex (chemical name: fulvestrant)
    • Femara (chemical name: letrozole)
    • tamoxifen
  • Avastin (chemical name: bevacizumab), a targeted therapy

Other medicines you may be taking during treatment, including pain medications, anticonvulsants, bisphosphonates (bone-strengthening medicines), and steroids also can contribute to weight gain or weight loss.

Managing weight changes

If you’re concerned you’ve gained or lost too much weight, talk to your doctor. Together, you can figure out a healthy weight for you and develop a plan for eating and exercising to help you reach it. You also may want to talk to a registered dietitian if you’d like more detailed information about nutrition during breast cancer treatment. You can get a list of dietitians in your ZIP code at the American Dietetic Association website.

Managing weight gain

  • Eat a healthy diet full of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
  • Limit saturated fat, salt, sugar, and alcohol to reduce calories.
  • Get moving. Exercise is now considered such an important part of daily life that it was added to the U.S. government’s guide to healthy eating. Aim for 3 to 5 hours a week of moderate exercise (walking at an average pace).

Visit the Breastcancer.org Eating to Lose Weight After Treatment pages in the Nutrition section for more tips.

Managing weight loss

  • Try to eat small meals or snacks every hour to make sure you’re getting enough calories.
  • Snack on foods high in protein but low in fat, such as yogurt and cottage cheese, lean meat or fish, and lentils.
  • Use low-fat milk in some recipes instead of water.

Visit the Breastcancer.org Eating to Maintain or Gain Weight After Treatment pages in the Nutrition section for more tips.

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Last modified on April 26, 2019 at 12:13 PM

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Some people lose weight during cancer treatment while others gain weight. Slight increases in weight during cancer treatment are generally not a problem. But significant weight gain can affect a person’s health.

Weight gain is an especially important health issue for women with breast cancer. More than half of women with breast cancer experience weight gain during treatment. Reports show that weight gain during treatment is linked to a poorer chance of recovery. Being overweight before treatment begins also increases the risk of serious health conditions. These include high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart problems.

Causes of weight gain during cancer treatment

The following cancer treatments may lead to weight gain:

Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can lead to weight gain in several ways, including by:

  • Causing the body to hold on to excess fluid, called edema.

  • Causing people to reduce physical activity, usually because of fatigue.

  • Causing nausea that is improved by eating.

  • Triggering intense food cravings.

  • Decreasing a person’s metabolism, which is the rate that the body uses energy.

  • Causing menopause in some women, which decreases the metabolism.

Steroid medications. Doctors prescribe steroids during cancer treatment for several reasons, including:

  • To reduce symptoms of inflammation, such as swelling and pain.

  • To treat nausea.

  • As part of the treatment for the cancer itself.

However, steroids can cause certain side effects, including:

  • An increase in appetite.

  • An increase in fatty tissue (with long-term use), which can increase the size of a person’s abdomen and cause fullness in the neck or face.

  • Weight and muscle mass loss, called wasting.

  • A noticeable increase in weight (with continuous, long-term use).

Hormonal therapy. Hormonal therapy may be used to treat breast, uterine, prostate, and testicular cancers. It involves medicines that decrease the amount of estrogen or progesterone in women and testosterone in men. Decreases in these hormone levels can increase fat, decrease muscle, and lower the metabolism.

Relieving side effects is an important part of cancer care and treatment. This is called palliative care, or supportive care. Talk with your health care team about any symptoms you experience and any change in symptoms.

If weight gain becomes a concern, talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian (RD) before starting a diet or changing your eating habits. They can help you find the possible cause and the best way to manage it. An RD can also provide nutritional guidelines or a customized diet plan.

Consider the following ways to address weight gain through diet and physical activity:

  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

  • Limit fat, sugar, and refined flour.

  • Drink plenty of water.

  • Use healthier cooking methods whenever possible. For example, try steaming instead of frying.

  • Identify everyday eating patterns that lead to overeating and inactivity. Your RD can help you with this.

  • Find physical activities, such as walking or bicycling, that you enjoy. Try strength-building exercises if you have lost muscle. But check with your doctor before starting a new type of exercise or increasing your physical activity.

Managing fluid retention-related weight gain

Call your doctor if you experience any of the following signs of fluid retention:

  • Skin that feels stiff or leaves small indentations after pressing on the swollen area.

  • Swelling of the arms or legs, especially around the ankles and wrists.

  • Rings, wristwatches, bracelets, or shoes that fit tighter than usual.

  • Decreased flexibility in the hands, elbows, wrists, fingers, or legs.

The following tips can help you manage fluid retention:

  • Ask a doctor about prescribing a medication that increases urination to rid the body of excess water. This is called a diuretic.

  • Lower the amount of salt in your diet.

  • Avoid standing for long periods.

  • Elevate your feet as often as possible.

  • Avoid crossing your legs, which restricts blood flow.

  • Weigh yourself at the same time each day and keep track of changes. Bring this log with you to appointments for your health care team to evaluate.

  • Avoid tight clothing and footwear.

  • Ask your health care team if wearing support or compression stockings may help.

Related Resources

Obesity and Cancer

Nutrition Recommendations During and After Cancer Treatment

Side Effects

5 Tips for Avoiding Weight Gain After Breast Cancer Treatment

Most people associate cancer with weight loss, but weight gain can also be a challenge brought on by cancer and cancer treatment, especially for those with breast cancer.

Chemotherapy can bring on premature menopause, which slows your metabolism down, making it easier to gain weight. Chemotherapy can also cause your body to hold on to fluid, making you feel and appear swollen or bloated. Fatigue, another common side effect of chemotherapy and radiation, makes it difficult to stay physically active which is also plays a part in maintaining a healthy weight. Other medications, such as steroids, may increase your appetite.

Maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Benefits of maintaining a healthy weight or healthy body size include

  • Decreased risk of disease, including some cancers
  • Increased energy and wellbeing
  • Improved strength and mobility
  • More restful sleep.

What can you do to combat weight gain after breast cancer treatment? Here are a few tips:

Tip 1: Make simple swaps.

Try to swap out at least half of your processed grains for whole grains. Eat brown rice instead of white, and whole grain pasta and bread instead of white bread or pasta. You don’t have to give these foods up, just eat their healthier counterparts. The fiber in these whole grains will keep you feeling full longer and you may not need to snack as much throughout the day.

Tip 2: Keep a food journal.

It’s easy to eat a handful of pretzels here and there without a second thought. However, most people don’t realize how much they’re eating throughout the day until they’ve gained weight. Writing down everything you eat will help you see patterns that you may not have noticed before, and once you recognize these patterns you can start to change them.

Tip 3: Limit salt, sugar and fat.

Cut down on sugar-sweetened soda and sugary foods, which are often high in calories but low in vitamins and nutrients. Start small. Instead of one soda a day, try drinking one every other day. Reading food labels can also help you understand what’s in the foods you are eating, and help you cut down on processed foods, which often contain shocking amounts of added sugar, salt and fat.

Tip 4: Walk.

Walking is a great way to get in moderate exercise without feeling like you’re expending all your energy, and being outdoors can boost your mood. Be sure to set realistic goals. Try starting with 10 minutes three times a week. Once you’re comfortable with this, add on to your goals. Ask your healthcare team before starting a new physical activity.

Tip 5: Find a buddy.

It’s more difficult to slip into old habits when someone’s holding you accountable. Ask a friend if they’ll walk with you each week, or give a report of what you ate each day to your spouse.

Weight gain after treatment isn’t inevitable. You can reach your goals by putting nutritious foods in your body and keeping track of them, staying active, and asking someone to hold you accountable. Not only will you feel better, but you’ll reduce your chances of recurrence or other health problems.

Ellen Jones, Dietetics Student, Lipscomb University


Weight loss after mastectomy

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