Healthy Lifestyle Behaviors Linked to Lower Colon Cancer Mortality in Study

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Researchers from major cancer centers across the US have found that colon cancer survivors who engaged in healthy lifestyle behaviors consistent with American Cancer Society guidelines lived longer than those who did not engage in those healthy behaviors. American Cancer Society Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines for Cancer Survivors include staying at a healthy weight, getting enough physical activity, and eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

The study involved 992 men and women with stage III colon cancer who took part in a chemotherapy randomized trial from 1999 through 2001. Each person was assigned a score based on personal factors including body mass index, physical activity, and diet. Higher scores were given when factors were more in line with ACS guidelines. Researchers analyzed the data between November 2016 and December 2017. Those with the highest scores had a 42% lower risk of death during the intervening years than those with the lowest scores. The results were even more significant when alcohol consumption was factored in.

Previous studies have looked at either diet, exercise, or weight and the link to colon cancer recurrence and death, but this is the first study to evaluate the combined effects of all 3, through adherence to ACS guidelines by colon cancer survivors. While an observational study such as this one can link healthy lifestyle behaviors to longer survival, it can’t prove cause because there are many other factors that may affect cancer survival. According to Marjorie McCullough, ScD, American Cancer Society Strategic Director, Nutritional Epidemiology, the study can provide an important contribution to the evidence base for guidelines for cancer survivors.

McCullough said, “Much less is known about optimal diet and lifestyle after a cancer diagnosis compared to what is known about cancer prevention, which is why the ACS guidelines for cancer survivors also recommend following guidelines for cancer prevention. This study supports following the combination of ACS guidelines, which include maintaining a healthy body weight, being physically active, and following a healthy diet pattern for colon cancer survivors.”

The study was published April 12, 2018 in JAMA Oncology.

American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Survivors

The American Cancer Society updated its guidelines for nutrition and physical activity during and after cancer treatment in 2012. The guidelines recommend:

  • Getting to and staying at a healthy weight.
  • Getting at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week, including strength-training exercises at least 2 days per week.
  • Eating a diet high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
  • Following the American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention.

Other studies have found a link between drinking alcohol and the risk of getting some types of cancer, possibly including colon cancer. When researchers in this study looked at alcohol use, they assigned the highest scores to men who had 2 or fewer drinks per day, and women who had 1 or fewer drinks per day.

According to the study authors, extensive data suggest that a healthy body size, physical activity, and diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains improves insulin sensitivity, decreases inflammation, and increases vitamin D levels – all of which have been linked to colon cancer survival.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Association of Survival With Adherence to the American Cancer Society Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines for Cancer Survivors After Colon Cancer Diagnosis. Published April 12, 2018 in JAMA Oncology. First author Erin L. Van Blarigan, ScD, University of California, San Francisco.

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