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May 8, 2014 | 3 minute read

Diet, Breast Cancers, Childhood Cancers: The Latest on Survivorship Research

I recently came back from a symposium of registered dietitians who specialize in cancer and nutrition, where there was a lot of exciting research presented on cancer survivorship.Mid section of female physiotherapist assisting senior woman to

Some presentations were highly technical – covering interactions of particular chemotherapy drugs with nutrition and updated tips for use of feeding tubes and pancreatic enzymes, for example. Take-home nuggets of broader interest include:

Effects of weight loss in breast cancer survivors: Overweight and obese breast cancer survivors who lost weight through moderate changes in eating choices combined with regular physical activity lowered levels of insulin and estrogens, both of which can promote cancer development. Cheryl Rock, PhD, RD, showed evidence suggesting even five percent weight loss (about eight pounds for a 160-pound woman) may be enough to improve outcome. (Here’s a webinar that Dr. Rock and I presented on Diet and Physical Activity in Cancer Prevention and Survivorship.)

This paralleled research shared by Stephen Hursting, PhD, MPH, suggesting that risk may come not just from weight itself, but from changes in cell signaling paths when the calories we consume are out of balance with the calories we burn in activity. Dr. Hursting showed evidence from animals and a small human intervention trial on how changing these signals may change hormones in the blood and markers of cell growth in breast tissue itself.

Diet may help preserve muscle: Early assessment and nutritional adjustments can lessen the muscle wasting that occurs in some cancer survivors, reducing likelihood of unplanned hospitalizations and inability to tolerate full length and dose of treatment. If you or someone you love is in cancer treatment and having difficulty eating to meet nutritional needs, don’t wait and see how it goes – act early and request a consultation with a registered dietitian.

Childhood cancer survivors face serious health risks: Advances in cancer treatment mean a five-year survival rate of childhood cancers are now over 80 percent, resulting in a growing population of long-term survivors. Unfortunately, research shows these survivors are 10 times more likely to develop heart disease, and risk a shortened lifespan because of it. This reflects a variety of influences, but addressing obesity, eating habits and physical activity level may help. There is lots of emerging research on this topic, and childhood cancer survivorship will be among the major topics at this fall’s AICR Research Conference.

I hope the symposium was as helpful for the other registered dietitians there as it was for me. In addition to all the advances in oncology nutrition I learned about, talking with my dietitian colleagues at the conference was a great opportunity for give-and-take. I was able to answer their questions about findings from the AICR/WCRF Continuous Update Project reports and help them identify resources they might find helpful. In return, I got to hear how they are using AICR’s professional updates and educational materials to provide care that makes a difference in so many lives.

Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, is AICR’s Nutrition Advisor. Karen is a speaker, writer and consultant who specializes in helping people make sense of nutrition news. You can follow her blog, Smart Bytes®, through her website and follow her on Twitter @KarenCollinsRD.

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