At the Diet, Physical Activity and Survivorship session of AICR’s annual meeting, leading researchers pointed to the latest developments in lifestyle changes that might affect risk and death from major cancers. Catherine M. Alfano of the National Cancer Institute stressed the desire of cancer survivors, now numbering more than 12 million in the US, to “take control and actively participate” in beating cancer.
In breast cancer, physical activity has been studied most and found to have an impact on preventing recurrence and improving quality of life, as well as reducing negative side-effects of treatment.
Human trials looking at the impact of physical activity, diet and obesity on other kinds of cancers are sorely needed — as borne out by evidence presented by Jeffrey Meyerhardt, Ph.D, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, who noted that studies linking physical activity with preventing colon cancer have shown clear results, but design of studies on survivors have varied.
Finding evidence on recurrence and mortality is more complex, Dr. Meyerhardt said, such as in looking into the various stages of colon cancer diagnosis, so these studies must be large and long-term, accumulating data over decades.
Prostate cancer and physical activity also has not been adequately studied, although presenter Edward Giovanucci, MD, of Harvard University said that being active before diagnosis is best, and that vigorous activity seemed to help survivors in the later stages of prostate cancer. He noted that brisk walking (3 miles an hour or more) for at least 7 hours per week did seem to have a positive effect in a small study of prostate cancer survivors. As for obesity, studies so far do not show an effect on survival from prostate cancer, but they may affect screening and treatment effectiveness, which may in turn affect survival of this cancer. A low-fat diet also seems to help survival rates.
The presenters emphasized the many health benefits of a physically active and prudent-diet lifestyle besides the likely cancer prevention and survival benefits, including lower risk for diabetes, heart disease and other chronic health problems — in other words it’s smart to make healthy changes while we are still healthy so that even after a cancer diagnosis, we are more likely to survive.