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Science in the Spotlight:
Cancer Survivors: Getting Active and Healthy

There are now almost 12 million cancer survivors in the United States. New exercise recommendations highlight the emerging body of research showing that everyday lifestyle choices can play an important role in cancer survivorship.

Avoiding Inactivity

Historically, clinicians often advised cancer patients to rest and avoid activity. But not anymore. New recommendations urge survivors to avoid inactivity, even cancer patients undergoing treatment.

Published in the July issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the recommendations stem from a review of the research by experts in the field of cancer and exercise.

According to the new guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine, cancer survivors should aim to get the same amount of exercise the government recommends for the average person: 150 minutes (2.5 hours) per week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise. Survivors should also do muscle training and flexibility exercises.

"The research continues to show that diet and physical activity make a difference for cancer patients and survivors," said AICR Director of Research Susan Higginbotham, MS, MPH, RD. "Small, everyday changes can help cancer patients deal with the side effects of treatment, as well as help prevent recurrence and secondary cancers down the road."

However, the level of supervision needed for cancer survivors to exercise safely varies and clinicians will need to adapt exercise programs to the individual survivor.

Foods for Fighting Cancer

Another active area of research in cancer survivorship investigates the role of diet and body weight. Good nutrition is vitally important for survivors, but it can be a challenge. Patients during treatment often have side effects that alter appetite and taste. After treatment, survivors are often left questioning what foods they should eat and which foods can decrease or increase future cancer risk.

AICR’s educational DVD "Food for the Fight" gives practical dietary strategies aimed to help cancer survivors manage their way through treatment and prevent recurrence.

Developed by AICR in partnership with New York-Presbyterian Hospital, "Food for the Fight: Guidelines for Healthy Nutrition During and After Cancer Treatment" contains interviews by experts, patient stories and cooking demonstrations.

"This DVD can help survivors answer many questions, but we hope it also encourages patients to talk with their health professional about their diet and activity plan." says Higginbotham.

Finding the Links for Breast Cancer Survivors

Currently, the majority of studies in lifestyle and survivorship are conducted on breast cancer survivors. In order to provide science-based recommendations, AICR and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) have launched a new study that will systematically analyze the published evidence on the impact of diet, physical activity and body fat in women diagnosed with breast cancer.

The review of the research will provide the most up-to-date information about how breast cancer survivors might improve their quality of life and help prevent recurrence and secondary cancers.

The study, part of AICR/WCRF's Continuous Update Project, follows up on the 2007 expert report, which advised cancer survivors to follow the general recommendations for cancer prevention. Results of the study are expected in Summer 2011.

Visit the Continuous Update Project to learn more.

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