If you are or know a cancer survivor, you join a large — and growing — community. Advances in treatments and detection have led to survivors living longer today than ever before. There are now an estimated 14.5 million survivors in the United States, with that number expected to increase to 18 million by 2020.
There’s a lot of emerging research looking at ways to help individuals diagnosed with cancer live both longer and healthier. To mark National Cancer Survivor's Day this Sunday, here are three key steps research is suggesting can help survivors:
1. Avoid sitting around too much; get active
Evidence is now clear that, like the general population, being active can improve physical health and well-being. An emerging but strong body of research, much of it focusing on colorectal cancers, suggests activity may lengthen survival and improve survivors’ quality of life.
Guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine encourage cancer survivors to avoid inactivity, even during treatment. Survivors should aim to get the same amount of exercise the government recommends for the general population: 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise. Survivors should also do muscle training and flexibility exercises weekly.
2. Eat well
AICR recommends that cancer survivors follow the same recommendations as those for primary prevention. That includes avoiding sugary beverages and eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and other plant foods. It also includes eating 18 ounces or less of red meat a week and avoiding processed meats, along with drinking only moderate amounts of alcohol, if any.
Studies have shown that following these and other AICR recommendations for prevention can lengthen survival. That makes sense, because a diet for cancer prevention can also help reduce the risk of heart disease, a leading cause of death among survivors. A cancer preventive diet also helps reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.
It’s possible a plant-focused diet could also prevent secondary cancers. More studies are needed to understand exactly what foods and dietary patterns consistently help survivors. Many studies do suggest diet does help.
3. When done with treatment, get to and stay a healthy weight
Obesity increases the risk of 11 cancers and so it makes sense that getting to a healthy weight — and staying there — can help survivors prevent other cancers. Today, approximately two thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, which means many individuals start out their cancer treatment with excess body fat. Treatment and other factors lead to weight gain for many patients.
Obesity also increases the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and it can lead to many other disorders.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology says that weight loss for obese survivors is important, and it can be achieved through lifestyle changes after cancer diagnosis.
Join others who are also working to put our recommendations into action, one change at a time with our New American Plate Challenge. Sign up here: napchallenge.org
Published on May 26, 2016