Background: Besides conventional adjuvant therapies, many breast cancer survivors engage in various activities like exercise, diet and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in order to improve their prognosis. Little is known about specific interests and willingness to participate in institutional programs (e.g. exercise classes).
Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study in patients with early breast cancer assessing current physical activity (PA, e.g. 30 minutes brisk walking), attention to eating habits ("diet"), use of CAM, and interest in learning more about these fields. Patients indicating interest in PA counselling received a voucher for a free instruction by a certified physiotherapist. Data were analysed for factors predictive for engagement in the three fields using a stepwise multivariate logistic approach.
Results: Of 342 consecutive patients, 232 (69%) reported to be physically active more than once per week, 299 (87%) paying special attention to nutrition (in most cases fruits, "balanced diet", low fat), and 159 (46%) use of CAM (vitamins, special teas, homeopathy, herbal medicine, mistletoe). Factors predictive for PA were use of CAM, higher age, and fewer worries about the future. Swiss nationality at birth, physical activity and higher education were predictive for diet; whereas physical activity, higher education and lower age were predictive for use of CAM. No associations between any of the above variables and breast cancer characteristics were found. Around half of the patients reported interest in receiving more information and willingness to attend special counselling. Of 166 vouchers, only 7 (4%) were eventually utilized.
Conclusions: A high proportion of breast cancer survivors report PA, following a specific diet and use of CAM. There were no disease related factors associated with such pursuits, but an association between patient related factors and these fields was observed suggesting general health awareness in some patients. Around half of the patients were interested in more information and indicated willingness to participate in institutional programs. Impact on disease specific and general health including health economic aspects warrants further research.