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Healthy Living After Cancer

Advice on Diet and Physical Activity for Cancer Survivors
WebMD Health News

Sept. 30, 2003 -- The war against cancer is a lifelong battle for cancer survivors, and a new report offers diet and exercise advice to help cancer survivors reduce their risk of future cancer attacks.

The American Cancer Society today released new nutrition and physical activity recommendations for the growing number of cancer survivors, currently at 9.5 million Americans and counting.

Researchers say nearly two out of every three Americans with cancer live more than five years after their diagnosis. But many have questions about how they should eat and exercise in order to best maintain their health and prevent cancer recurrence.

Keeping Cancer From Coming Back

Experts say many of the same nutrition and physical activity guidelines recommended to prevent cancer in the first place are also likely to benefit cancer survivors.

But the report, which appears in the September/October issue of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, also contains specific recommendations to meet the special needs of cancer survivors or those currently undergoing treatment for cancer.

  • Physical activity may help people with advanced cancer by increasing appetite and reducing constipation and fatigue.
  • Being overweight or obese may increase the risk of cancer recurrence or even death. Weight loss is recommended among overweight cancer survivors to reduce these risks.
  • Taking a standard multivitamin with 100% of the recommended daily value of major vitamins and minerals may help cancer survivors meet nutritional needs when it's difficult to eat a healthy diet. But some supplements with high levels of folic acid or antioxidants may interfere with cancer treatment.
  • Alcohol can have mixed effects in cancer survivors by increasing the risk of new cancers but reducing the risk of heart disease. Cancer patients should check with a health-care provider to discuss their risk profile.
  • Although a vegetarian diet might have many health benefits, there's no direct evidence that it can prevent cancer recurrence. Cancer survivors who eat a vegetarian diet should take special care to get all the nutrients they need.

The report also contains tailored advice on common diet and physical activity issues associated some of the most common types of cancer, including breast, colorectal, prostate, and lung.

Jury Still Out on 'Cancer Diets'

Researcher Jean K. Brown, PhD, RN, of the University of Buffalo School of Nursing, and colleagues also evaluated several anticancer diets and supplements that are often touted as alternatives to standard medical care.

They say many of the interventions, including Gerson therapy, the Gonzales regimen, Livingston-Wheeler therapy, macrobiotic diets, flaxseed, garlic, ginger, and tea, have little or no evidence to support their use.

Researchers say some of these therapies may even increase health risks among cancer survivors and none of them should be considered an alternative to standard cancer treatment.

In an editorial the accompanies the report, Rowan T. Cheblowski, MD, PhD, of the Harbor-UCLA Research and Education Institute, writes that the guidelines provide a compelling argument for further studies on the benefits of increased physical activity and weight loss among cancer survivors.

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