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November 8, 2013 | 3 minute read

Phone Counseling Helps Breast Cancer Survivors to Better Health

New research suggests telephone counseling effective for weight loss.

BETHESDA, MD — Phone counseling may be as effective as in-person counseling to help breast cancer survivors eat healthy, exercise and lose weight, all of which are factors that reduce future cancer risk and improve health, according to a study presented today at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) Annual Research Conference.

The findings may offer survivors – and others – a savings of time and cost, barriers often cited in healthy lifestyle changes.

The study was one of the approximately 130 posters presented at the research conference.

“Obesity is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer mortality as well as cardiovascular disease, making weight loss crucial for these women,” said Project Director Maura Harrigan, MS, RD, CSO, of the Yale School of Public Health.

“For these women, we had seen this relentless, steady weight gain prior to diagnosis, but having a goal – addressing nutrition, exercise and behavior – they were able to reverse that trend.”

The study, Lifestyle, Exercise, and Nutrition (LEAN), randomly assigned 100 overweight breast cancer survivors into one of three weight-loss groups: in-person counseling; phone counseling; or the usual-care group, who received only educational materials on healthy lifestyle recommendations. The women on average were 60 years old and had completed active treatment three years previously.

The women in counseling, phone and face-to-face, were asked to monitor their portion sizes, fat intake, added sugars, fiber and sodium. They were given a pedometer and a goal, two tools previous studies suggest increases physical activity.

After six months, the two counseling groups lost comparable amount of weight, with the in-person group losing only slightly more on average than the telephone group. Women who received counseling lost approximately seven percent of their body weight; the comparison group lost about two percent.

“We also saw both in-person and telephone groups embraced walking, they increased minutes of exercise far more than the comparison group,” said Harrigan.

“Given that weight gain is common as we age and common after a diagnosis of breast cancer, finding cost-effective interventions that are easily disseminated and that prevent weight gain or allow for weight loss is critical. The phone allows for just that,” said Melinda Irwin, Principal Investigator for LEAN, and Associate Professor of Epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health.

The study was funded by the American Institute for Cancer Research.



To the Editors

Relevant Studies:

Harrigan M, Cartmel B, Baglia M, Sanft T, Betzing L, Loftfield E, Playdon M, Irwin ML
Yale School of Public Health, New Haven CT. Efficacy of telephone vs. in-person counseling on weight loss in women treated for breast cancer: the lifestyle, exercise, and nutrition (LEAN) study.

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