There is much we know about how diet and lifestyle can influence the risk of a person developing cancer. Now, for the first time, the effectiveness of cancer prevention guidelines has been applied to cancer survivors with promising results that should make any cancer survivor sit up and take note.
In the most important report ever published on dietary and lifestyle factors and cancer risk, the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute of Cancer Research in 2007 issued 8 recommendations on diet, physical activity, and weight management for cancer prevention.
The recommendations can be easily summed up as maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active, giving up smoking, eating lots of plant-based foods, limiting red meat and avoiding processed meat, and cutting back on alcohol and salt. Applying these guidelines in practice has been linked to a fall in the risk of developing any form of cancer of 5% for every guideline a person adopts.
With so much we know about how to prevent cancer by positive lifestyle choices, the next logical step was to see how effective following the prevention guidelines could be in the much less studied area of cancer survival.
Published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, cancer researchers used health and lifestyle information collected from a long-running observational study (Iowa Women’s Health Study). Over 2000 women with a confirmed cancer diagnosis between 1986 and 2002 were identified with lifestyle information collected
both before and after the cancer diagnosis.
Getting a good handle on a person’s diet and lifestyle habits over many years is always an imperfect science. So with that in mind, the research team gave each woman a numerical score based on how many of the specified 8 cancer prevention guidelines she was following.
Meeting six or more of the cancer prevention guidelines showed a clear benefit. As a group, there were 33% fewer deaths from all causes in women following most of the guidelines compared to women who only met 4 or less of the guidelines.
Teasing out if any of the recommendations were more beneficial than others, the clear standout was meeting physical activity recommendations of at least 30 minutes every day. Meeting this recommendation was not only linked to lower all-cause mortality, but lower risk of cancer-specific and cardiovascular disease mortality.
The area of physical activity in cancer survivors is already one with some exciting research to support a benefit in cutting the risk of cancer recurrence, and you can read my blog post on this topic from earlier this year. So these latest findings on the benefits of physical activity after a cancer diagnosis finding will help drive more research into this area.
For practical advice on food, nutrition and exercise after a cancer diagnosis, see my previous blog post.
What it all means
There is a lot to recommend a healthy diet, plenty of exercise, and keeping body weight in check to reduce the risk of cancer – hardly controversial recommendations. For cancer survivors, these recommendations become even more essential.