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Healthy lifestyle improves cancer survivors’ prognoses

Thursday April 26, 2012
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For many cancers, maintaining a healthy weight, getting adequate physical activity and eating a healthy diet can reduce the chance of recurrence and increase the likelihood of disease-free survival after a diagnosis, according to new guidelines from the American Cancer Society.

"The data suggest that cancer survivors, just like everyone else, benefit from these important steps," Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, American Cancer Society director of nutrition and physical activity and co-author of the guidelines, said in a news release.

"While we’ve published previous reports outlining the evidence on the impact of nutrition and physical activity on cancer recurrence and survival, this is the first time the evidence has been strong enough to release formal guidelines for survivorship, as we’ve done for cancer prevention. Living a physically active lifestyle and eating a healthy diet should absolutely be top of mind for anyone who’s been diagnosed with cancer."

The report, "Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines for Cancer Survivors," was created in 2001 and previously updated in 2006. For the latest update, a group of experts in nutrition, physical activity and cancer survivorship evaluated the scientific evidence and best clinical practices related to optimal nutrition and physical activity after the diagnosis of cancer. Among the review’s conclusions:

• Avoiding weight gain throughout treatment may be important not only for survivors who are overweight, but also those of normal weight.

• Intentional weight loss after recovering from cancer treatment among overweight and obese patients may be associated with health-related benefits.

• Evidence strongly suggests that exercise is not only safe and feasible during cancer treatment, but that it can also improve physical functioning, fatigue and multiple aspects of quality of life, and may even increase the rate of completion of chemotherapy.

• Physical activity after cancer diagnosis is associated with a reduced risk of cancer recurrence and improved overall mortality among multiple cancer survivor groups, including breast, colorectal, prostate and ovarian cancer. Among breast cancer survivors, physical activity after diagnosis has consistently been associated with reduced risk of breast cancer recurrence and breast cancer-specific mortality.

• Results from observational studies suggest that diet and food choices may affect cancer progression, risk of recurrence and overall survival in individuals who have been treated for cancer. For example, a dietary pattern high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry and fish was found to be associated with reduced mortality compared with a dietary pattern characterized by a high intake of refined grains, processed and red meats, desserts, high-fat dairy products and French fries in women after breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

• Compelling evidence exists against the use of select supplements in certain oncology populations, meaning healthcare professionals and survivors need to proceed with caution.

"As more people survive cancer, there is increasing interest in finding information about food choices, physical activity and dietary supplements to improve treatment outcomes, quality of life and overall survival," Doyle said. "Our report summarizes the findings of this expert panel, and is intended to present healthcare providers with the best possible information with which to help cancer survivors and their families make informed choices related to nutrition and physical activity."

The recommendations also include specific guidance for people diagnosed with breast, colorectal, endometrial, ovarian, lung, prostate, head and neck and hematologic cancers. It also includes a section with answers to common questions about alcohol, organic foods, sugar, supplements and several other areas of interest.

The recommendations were published April 26 on the website of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. To read them, visit http://bit.ly/IsfEM3.

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