Dec 10, 2015

How a healthy lifestyle can improve cancer outcomes

As new evidence-based guidelines for cancer survivors emphasise the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, we take a look at the evidence behind supportive care strategies to discover how patients can take control of their own cancer journey and improve their outcomes.

A healthy lifestyle is paramount for cancer survivorship

New guidelines published this month provide comprehensive, holistic recommendations to improve overall health and quality of life for breast cancer survivors. The guidelines, published by the American Cancer Society and based on current evidence and expert opinion, add to a growing body of published, evidence-based guidance that further strengthens the view that supportive care during and after treatment is a real science, not just a passing trend. As cancer treatment improves, and more patients are living longer with or after cancer, we delve into the evidence and ask, ‘What exactly is the role of supportive care for patients undergoing or recovering from cancer treatment?’


We all know that eating healthily helps our bodies to function at their best. But can a healthy diet really impact on your cancer outcomes? Yes it can. And it’s supported by clinical evidence. The guidelines recommend a diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes, and low in saturated fats, and limited in alcohol consumption. As part of this, patients should work towards achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. These recommendations are based on strong scientific evidence from large clinical trials, showing that dietary changes really can impact cancer recurrence and outcomes. Eating healthily not only helps to keep up your strength and fight infection, it may also help you to cope better with treatment side effects, possibly allowing you to handle higher doses of particular drugs. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that some cancer treatments work better in people who are well nourished. Other lifestyle choices can also help to ensure the best possible quality of life and health outcomes. For example, smoking should be avoided. Why? Because the evidence shows that patients who smoke at the time of diagnosis have substantially worse outcomes than former or never-smokers.


Exercise should be a central part of your life as a patient undergoing and recovering from treatment. The new guidelines recommend that inactivity should be avoided, and patients should return to normal daily activities as soon as possible after diagnosis. Exercise should become a central part of your weekly routine, and should include both vigorous aerobic exercise and strength training, particularly if you have undergone chemotherapy or hormone therapy. And why is physical activity recommended so strongly? Because again, the evidence shows there are real benefits. Data have shown reductions in tiredness, anxiety, depression and some treatment side effects, along with positive impacts on mood and quality of life. And it can improve outcomes. The evidence is overwhelming.

The new guidelines note that ‘healthy behaviours are paramount to reducing the risk of second cancers, comorbidities, obesity, and possibly recurrence; improving prognosis; ameliorating cancer-related symptoms; and decreasing the risk of mortality’. As the science supporting a healthy lifestyle mounts, think about the steps you can take today to take control of your own cancer journey.

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