Clinical trial examines weight loss as prevention for recurrent breast cancer

BOSTON — A clinical trial is investigating if weight loss can help prevent recurring breast cancer.

Researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston want to see if diet and exercise should be a standard prescription for cancer treatment.

For Peggy Pochay, It's been 2 1/2 years since she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.

"It was frightening. I had just lost a sister just a year before I was diagnosed," Pochay said.


After she was finished with cancer treatment, she decided to enroll in a clinical trial that was focused on preventing her cancer from returning.  It involved her losing weight.

"I really want to be able to show whether you need to give people a prescription for exercise, or dietary change or weight loss as a standard part of their cancer treatment," said Dr. Jennifer Ligibel, an oncologist at Dana-Farber.

Ligibel is heading the Breast Cancer Weight Loss, or BWEL, study  It involves thousands of women across North America -- from Nova Scotia all the way to Hawaii; most are overweight and have advanced stage breast cancer. Ligibel says researchers hope to complete the trial by the end of 2023.

"When women are obese especially, they have a higher risk of their cancer recurring," Ligibel said. “We designed this study to look like a trial of chemotherapy or a type of surgery where you have two big groups of people and you really see if this makes a difference."

Everyone in the trial is enrolled in a health education program and given materials about living a healthy lifestyle.

Pochay was part of the control group that was also assigned a health coach that she would check in with on a weekly basis by phone.

"I found for myself that I needed to set goals, planning what I was going to do next, what I was working towards," Pochay said.

Those goals included working out every morning at 5:30 and switching up her diet. Since she started the trial, Pochay says she's lost 30 pounds. "You feel better, you have more energy. Everything feels better when you're able do it" she said.

Ligibel says recovery from often grueling treatments is a small, but important part of the trial. "I'm really hopeful that we will find that these types of programs not only help people feel better but they help them live longer."

The BWEL study is ongoing and looking for more breast cancer patients to join the trial. You can enroll at your local oncology center if you're interested in participating.