New guidelines from American Cancer Society
Suddenly, the media the professionals read is full of the new guidelines coming out of US cancer research centres, urging survivors to exercise and eat healthily
The American Cancer Society says people who beat cancer exercise and eat healthier: now they say it just may provide a better chance of preventing the cancer from coming back.
Did your doctor discuss this?
In Britain, we are often given patchy advice – if anything at all. Tacked on to your treatment schedule, you may be offered some sessions with a dietician – but allying these to advice on exercise – forget it!
In the States it can be no better. “That’s not something most doctors do”, says Dr. Omer Kucuk, an Emory University oncologist who has researched the effect of nutrition on prostate cancer. Most doctors discuss surgery, chemotherapy or other treatments for their patients. “Usually the last thing on their mind is to talk about diet and exercise,” Kucuk said.
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Cancer society officials have long encouraged healthy eating and exercise as a way to prevent certain cancers. They and others have tried to spread that gospel to cancer survivors as well. Indeed, the American Cancer Society has a certification program for fitness professionals who work with cancer survivors.
But until now, the group didn’t think there was enough research to support a strong statement for cancer survivors.
American Cancer Society encourages joined-up thinking
Being overweight or obese has long been tied to an increased risk of several types of cancer, including cancers of the colon, esophagus, kidney, pancreas and – in postmenopausal women – breast. But there hadn’t been much evidence on the effects of diet and exercise for people who had had cancer.
The last five years have seen more than 100 studies involving cancer survivors, many of them showing that exercise and/or a healthy diet was associated with lower cancer recurrence rates and longer survival.
Most of the research was on breast, prostate and colorectal cancer. The evidence is more meager when it comes to other cancers, including the deadliest kind, lung cancer. Also, most of the work involved observational studies, which can’t prove a cause and effect. Still, the volume of research was compelling.
“We’ve got enough data now to make these recommendations,” said Colleen Doyle, the organization’s director of nutrition and physical activity.
Other medical groups have strongly recommended exercise and healthier eating for cancer survivors, but the cancer society’s new guidelines are expected to have much greater impact. It’s the American nation’s largest cancer charity in both donations and the number of volunteers, and it funds more cancer research than any other non-governmental agency.
There was a time when cancer patients were thought of as gaunt and dying souls. Many cancers were diagnosed at a late stage, after the disease had ravaged the body and caused weight loss.
But better screening and treatment has made early diagnosis of cancer more common and survival more likely. Today, more than two-thirds of cancer patients live at least five years. The ranks of cancer survivors have grown, with more than 12 million Americans identified as cancer survivors, and millions more in Europe.
For some patients just eating enough food is a priority, and diet advice can vary during treatment. The cancer society also notes that some people may be too weak at times for vigorous exercise. But experts say that even modest activities, like lifting soup cans while watching TV, can help.
Women seem to take to exercise and diet recommendations more readily than men, or to push their spouses to follow the advice, some doctors said. Men tend to go back into their man cave and hide.
Advice is to think what you eat, and get active. And if your hospital or centre doesn’t have a programme you can slot in to – what about suggesting starting one?