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Diet, Exercise, & Weight Control Improve Odds after Cancer Diagnosis


Wellness image

New guidelines from the American Cancer Society say 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.

Increasing evidence shows that ex­cess weight, lack of exercise, and poor nutrition increase the risk of cancer recurrence and reduce the likelihood of disease-free and overall survival for many cancer survivors. “The data sug­gests that cancer survivors, just like everyone else, benefit from these im­portant steps,” says Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, American Cancer Society director of nutrition and physical activity and coauthor of the guidelines. “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.”

Physical activity after cancer diag­nosis is associated with a reduced risk of cancer recurrence and improved overall mortality.

While conducting research for the guidelines, experts in nutrition, physi­cal activity, and cancer survivorship came up with the following:

  • Avoiding weight gain throughout treatment may be important, not only for survivors who are overweight, but also for those of normal weight.
  • Intentional weight loss after recov­ering from cancer treatment among overweight and obese people 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, 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.
  • Results from observational studies suggest that diet and food choices may affect cancer progression, risk of recur­rence, and overall survival in people who have been treated for cancer.
  • 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.

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The recommendations are included in “Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines for Cancer Survivors,” published online in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians at

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2012.