Improvements in Diet, Physical Activity Through a Lifestyle Clinic May Improve Outcomes in Patients With a History of Cancer

Darlene Dobkowski, MA

Patients with a history of cancer may become empowered to make diet and exercise changes by attending a clinic either virtually or in-person, which may also have a long-term impact on future risk for disease and outcomes.

A lifestyle medicine clinic allowed patients with a history of cancer to learn about health behavior either in-person or virtually, according to results from a study.

“An oncology advanced practice nurse and dietician-led lifestyle medicine clinic really complements the standard cancer follow-up visit by expanding upon evidence-based health behaviors counseling to empower patients and improve outcomes,” Loren Winters, oncology nurse practitioner at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, said during the virtual poster presentation at the Oncology Nursing Society Congress.

A third of all cancer cases in the United States are linked to diet and lifestyle, and an estimated 70% of all cancer survivors in this country are overweight or obese, according to the presentation. Diet and lifestyle counseling are a component of national guidelines for cancer prevention.

“Oncology nurses within the oncology care team share a key role in providing cancer-specific, evidence-based information and resources to aid in recovery after cancer treatment as well as to promote health behaviors,” Winters said during her presentation. “Typical cancer follow-up visits are time limited and often do not allow for a comprehensive lifestyle behaviors assessment and counseling.”

With the help of Carol Sullivan, senior clinical nutritionist at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Winters and the lifestyle medicine multidisciplinary team at her institution created a program for patients with a history of cancer. The program was predominantly led by an advanced practice oncology nurse and an oncology registered dietician.

Once patients are referred to this program by their cancer team, they underwent consultations focused on education and motivation. These consultations emphasized the importance of a whole food plant-forward diet, restorative sleep, regular physical activity, avoidance of risky substances, stress management and positive social connections. Based on needs, patients had free access to webinars, exercise videos and referrals to other specialists or supportive care programs. All of these visits are now conducted through telehealth platforms due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Winters and Sullivan received some insightful feedback on the program including that it had an empowering effect on them and it was specifically tailored to their needs.

“Future directions include shared medical or group visits to improve the patient experience by providing an interactive setting in which patients can learn and inspire each other to adopt lasting health behavior change,” Winters said during her presentation.

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