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Cancer Health Center

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New Guidelines Link Lifestyle to Cancer Survival

Healthy Diet, Regular Exercise Can Improve Odds, Report Confirms

Diet: Limit Red and Processed Meat

Among the specific findings:

  • Studies in breast cancer survivors have shown that a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, and fish is associated with a lower risk of death than one that contains a high intake of processed and red meat, refined grains, sugar, and high-fat dairy products.
  • Eating a healthy diet low in red and processed meat appears to protect against cancer progression, risk of recurrence, and overall survival for a variety of cancers.
  • Regular exercise appears to be associated with a lower risk for recurrence and improved survival following treatment for breast, prostate, ovarian, and colorectal cancers.
  • Moderate exercise during cancer treatment has been shown to improve fatigue, anxiety, and self-esteem, as well as heart health and muscle strength.
  • Cancer survivors who are overweight or obese may benefit from intentional weight loss following treatment.

Supplements Not Recommended

The report recommends that cancer survivors obtain the nutrients they need from foods instead of supplements, noting that "a concern exists that supplements may do more harm than good" following the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Doyle says a specific concern is that certain high-dose antioxidant supplements may reduce the effectiveness of cancer treatments and promote the recurrence of some cancers.

There is some evidence, for example, that vitamin E supplements may increase the risk of death in head and neck cancer patients and those with prostate cancer.

"There is no good evidence that supplements reduce recurrence risk and increasing evidence that they may be harmful in some cases," Doyle says. "Before taking a supplement, cancer patients and survivors should definitely discuss it with someone on their health care team."

The report appears online in the American Cancer Society publication CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

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