A Healthy Lifestyle Increases Longevity in Patients With Colorectal Cancer, Study Finds

Healthy weight, eating habits and exercise routines all led to a decreased chance of death for patients with colorectal cancer, according to a recent study.
Patients with stage 3 colorectal cancer who maintained a healthy body weight, engaged in regular physical activity and adopted healthy eating strategies experienced a 42 percent lower chance of death and a trend toward reduced cancer recurrence than those who engaged in less healthy lifestyles, a study shows.

Results from the study of 992 patients were presented in a presscast in advance of the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, set for June 2-7 in Chicago. The findings showed that patients with colorectal cancer who followed lifestyle recommendations made by the American Cancer Society experienced longer disease-free survival and overall survival.

“There are over 1.3 million colorectal cancer survivors in the United States. These patients need survivorship care, including guidance on what they can do to lower their risk of recurrence,” said the study’s lead author, Erin Van Barigan, Sc.D., assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California San Francisco. “In response to patient interest and need, the American Cancer Society (ACS) published ‘Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines for Cancer Survivors’ in 2012, but it is not known if following the guidelines after cancer diagnosis is associated with improved outcomes.”

Investigators enrolled the patients from 1999 through 2001, adding them to the study within eight weeks of surgery and immediately starting them on six months of chemotherapy. The primary purpose of the study was to consider the effects of two types of post-surgical chemotherapy on cancer recurrence and death. But also during the study, lifestyle was assessed twice using validated surveys — at enrollment and six months after each patient finished chemotherapy.

Patients were assigned a score from zero to six that reflected how closely their lifestyles synced with the ACS recommendations. The guidelines suggest maintaining a normal body weight (with a body mass index of 18.5 to 25 considered healthiest), engaging in regular physical activity (one hour or more of brisk walking each day was considered ideal) and eating a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and low in red meat and processed meat. A score of zero indicated that a patient was engaging in none of those healthy behaviors, while a score of six indicated that patients were adhering to all of them. Patients’ level of alcohol use was also assessed, with no drinking to moderate consumption considered healthiest (up to one drink a day for women and up to two per day for men).

Investigators sought to determine whether healthy behaviors would affect disease-free survival, recurrence-free survival or overall survival. They followed study participants through 2009 for a median seven years, during which they recorded 335 cancer recurrences. Of the patients who experienced recurrences, 256 died, and another 43 patients died without any cancer recurrence.

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