For more than 15 years, the “Eight Ways to Stay Healthy and Prevent Cancer” message campaign has provided an evidence-based, user-friendly approach to cancer prevention. Graham A. Colditz, MD, DrPH, and colleagues developed a parallel set of recommendations to help care for cancer survivors. The new recommendations, “Cancer Survivors’ Eight Ways to Stay Healthy After Cancer,” were published in Cancer Causes & Control.
Eight Key Strategies
Dr. Colditz recommends that providers remind cancer survivors that it is important, particularly toward the end of treatment, to revisit how they can pursue healthier lifestyle behaviors to improve their survival. The following actions are recommended:
1. Do not smoke: Patients with smoking-related cancer who quit the habit survive longer than those who keep smoking. For patients with cancers that are not smoking-related, the benefit from quitting smoking will translate through lower risk of heart disease, stroke, or even a second cancer.
2. Avoid secondhand smoke: Beyond its general health risk, “some patients may be particularly susceptible to the effects of secondhand smoke due to their treatment,” says Dr. Colditz.
3. Exercise regularly: There is concrete evidence for some specific cancers that the higher the level of physical activity after a cancer diagnosis, the better the cancer-specific survival. It also cuts the risk for heart disease and other chronic conditions.
4. Maintain a healthy weight: Gaining weight after cancer increases the risk of cancer recurrence and other chronic diseases, says Dr. Colditz.
5. Eat a healthy diet: Healthy eating for cancer survivors should be the same as for the general population. The focus should be on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. Unhealthy fats and red meat should be kept to a minimum.
6. Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all: The survival benefits obtained with successful treatment of some cancers can be negatively affected by heavy drinking. Patients who do not drink alcohol should be advised not to start, and those who do should be instructed to keep it to moderate levels.
7. Stay connected with friends, family, and other survivors: “A strong social network can help survivors get to doctor visits, make decisions about and obtain treatment, and adhere to treatment,” Dr. Colditz says.
8. Get screening tests and go to regular check-ups. “Patients shouldn’t forget about screening and regular checkups,” says Dr. Colditz. “This includes reviewing blood pressure, lipids, and glucose levels as well as other health considerations that aren’t necessarily part of routine cancer care.”
Put the List to Work
Dr. Colditz says it is important for providers to endorse these messages when caring for cancer survivors. “A physician endorsement of a recommendation increases the probability that patients will successfully follow through with that recommendation,” he says.