There are nearly 17 million cancer survivors in the United States. That’s about equal to the combined number of people in these 4 major US cities: New York (9 million), Los Angeles (4 million), Chicago (3 million), and Dallas (1 million). And the number of survivors continues to grow. Survivors want to know how to improve their chances of surviving cancer and keep it from returning. The American Cancer Society (ACS) helps by providing Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines for Cancer Survivors. The most up-to-date guideline was just published in CA: A Journal for Clinicians and includes a Patient Page with easy-to-understand information and tips.
Since the guidelines’ last version in 2012, researchers have published large, randomized clinical trials, literature reviews, analyses of prospective studies of cancer patients to learn how modifiable factors might contribute to cancer recurrence or survival. Multiple large cancer organizations have also published guidelines. To make this mass of information easier to use for health care providers, cancer survivors, and their families, researchers from the ACS, as well as experts from across the US developed these new recommendations based on evidence-based findings.
There are 2 general recommendations based on the best evidence for optimal cancer care that everyone should start as soon as possible after a cancer diagnosis.
Nutritional assessment and counseling from a qualified professional. The goal is to prevent or treat nutritional deficiencies, preserve muscle mass, and manage side effects of treatment—such as mouth sores or overwhelming fatigue—that could affect a person’s ability to eat healthfully.
“It’s easy to get bad and incorrect nutrition advice from friends, on television, in vitamin stores, social media sites, and other places. But if you’re at risk for malnutrition or are having diet-related issues, your best bet for nutritional counseling is with a registered dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). An RD will help you create a food plan that’s tailored to your needs and realistic for you. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, but RDs have specialized education and have to pass a national board exam. Many RDs have additional training in cancer care.”
—Marjorie McCullough, ScD, RD, senior study author
Here are a few of the recommended nutritional resources from the updated guideline:
Physical activity assessment and counseling from a qualified professional. The goal is to help people prepare for treatments, tolerate and respond to treatments, and manage some symptoms of cancer and side effects of treatment.
“Physical activity offers many benefits to cancer survivors, both during and after treatment. Not only can it improve survival for some cancers, but it can also help ease some symptoms and side effects of cancer treatment, like fatigue, anxiety, and depression. The American College of Sports Medicine website has a searchable directory of their Moving Through Cancer program, which helps patients find cancer exercise professionals or programs in their community”
—Erika Rees-Punia, PhD, MPH, study author
Here are a few of the recommended physical activity resources from the updated guideline:
Recommendations to improve chances of a long disease-free life. The Nutrition and Physical Activity Survivor Guidelines include several recommendations to improve long-term health after a cancer diagnosis.
There’s a significant enough body of evidence about breast cancer survivors to provide some specific nutrition, activity, and obesity guidelines to help improve survival.
“There’s a lot about the effect of excess body fat on breast cancer outcomes that’s not well understood. We don’t know the roles of weight distribution, such as more or less abdominal fat, or of body composition, such as muscle mass vs body fat. Several studies suggest that weight gain after a diagnosis of breast cancer increases the likelihood of dying from breast cancer. But there is only limited evidence that intentional weight loss after diagnosis will be helpful. The problem with interpreting the results of these studies is that the intentionality of weight loss was not considered, and losing weight without trying could be a result of cancer progression.”
—Cheryl Rock, PhD, RD, lead study author, University of California at San Diego
Eating a Western diet is associated with worse survival for people diagnosed with:
Drinking alcohol is associated with a higher risk of death from all causes after a diagnosis of:
It’s not known how drinking alcohol affects survival after a diagnosis of most cancer.
Having overweight or obesity is associated with worse survival after a diagnosis of:
Being physically active after a diagnosis improves survival after a diagnosis of:
Evidence is much more limited for cancers that are less common or that have lower survival rates.