Many cancer survivors celebrate their recovery by eating better, exercising more and making other lifestyle improvements, but some do not, according to new study findings.
U.S. researchers found that men, older survivors, and less educated individuals are less likely to make healthy lifestyle changes that can reduce their odds of developing additional health problems, including second cancers.
In addition, only up to 42 percent of cancer survivors eat enough fruits and vegetables, and approximately 7 out of 10 people who beat breast or Prostate cancer are either overweight or obese.
These findings suggest that many cancer survivors learn from their experiences, but there is “selective uptake of messages,” write the researchers, led by Dr. Wendy Demark-Wahnefried of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.
The United States is home to a growing number of cancer survivors, the authors note in their report, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Cancer survivors now make up 3 to 4 percent of the entire U.S. population, or 9.8 million people. Today, a person diagnosed with cancer has a 64 percent chance of living at least another 5 years.
Prostate Cancer Causes
The cause of prostate cancer is unknown, although some studies have shown a relationship between high dietary fat intake and increased testosterone levels. When testosterone levels are lowered either by surgical removal of the testicles (castration, orchiectomy) or by medication, prostate cancer can regress. There is no known association with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).
As a result, researchers have become increasingly interested in long-term health issues that cancer survivors face. For instance, research shows that cancer survivors are more at risk of additional cancers, as well as Osteoporosis and other functional limitations.
To investigate how people react to a diagnosis of cancer, Demark-Wahnefried and her team reviewed all published research conducted since 1966 on the effects of a cancer diagnosis on health-related lifestyle behavior.
Osteoporosis is a bone disorder. The bones become thinner, lose their strength and are more likely to break. People with osteoporosis have a higher risk of fractures. Their bones can fracture even during everyday movements, such as bending or coughing. Osteoporosis is not a form of arthritis, although it can cause fractures that lead to arthritis.
Although cancer survivors frequently eat better and exercise more after their diagnosis, the researchers found that not all survivors make healthy changes. For instance, 20 percent of cancer survivors smoke, a rate that is only slightly lower than that seen in the general population.
Studies also suggest that between 30 and 60 percent of survivors eat healthier after their diagnosis, but many remain overweight or obese, and appear to gain weight over time.
Overall, men, survivors older than the age of 65, less educated individuals and people living in urban areas were less likely to make or maintain healthy lifestyle changes after learning they had cancer.
For many people, “cancer becomes an enabling type of event,” Denmark-Wahnefried told Reuters Health. Patients “become reflective, and they turn over a new leaf. The kicker is that it doesn’t happen to everybody.”
In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Patricia Ganz of the University of California, Los Angeles notes that being diagnosed with cancer can be a “teachable moment,” when people are very open to suggestions about eating better, exercising and other healthy habits.
“Cancer survivors are looking for important ways to prevent a recurrence of their cancer and enhance the quality and length of their lives,” Ganz writes, and oncologists should take advantage of the opportunity to encourage lifestyle changes that may help survivors stay healthy and cancer-free.
SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Oncology, August 20, 2005.
Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD