A healthy lifestyle may reduce risk of death in colorectal cancer

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An article in the BMJ recently published the findings of a five-year study on the effects of a healthy lifestyle on colorectal cancer.

One in 24 women and one in 22 men will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in their lifetime. The American Cancer Society provides guidelines to increase the likelihood of survival for those with cancer. These guidelines state that living a healthy lifestyle with at least 2.5 hours of physical exercise per week and meals that are balanced with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can improve cancer outcomes. Recently, researchers tested whether these guidelines could help reduce the risk of death and of cancer coming back following a diagnosis of colorectal cancer.

The participants of the study were patients with stage III colorectal cancer undergoing chemotherapy in medical centers in Canada and the United States. Once during chemotherapy and once six months following their chemotherapy treatment, the patients completed surveys on their lifestyle habits, including diet and exercise, and their responses were scored by the researchers. A high score was consistent with high adherence to the American Cancer Society guidelines. The results of this study were recently published in the BMJ.

The researchers observed a 42% reduction in the risk of death for patients who led a healthy lifestyle following their cancer diagnosis and a 33% reduction in the risk of death in those patients during the seven-year period after the study compared to patients who did not engage in healthy behaviours.

This was the first ever study to examine the effectiveness of the American Cancer Society guidelines for a healthy lifestyle as it applies to cancer survival. The study found that patients adhering to a healthy lifestyle were predominantly white, non-smoking women, but the study did not include enough Hispanic or African American patients to be able to draw conclusions about differences by race. Overall, a healthy lifestyle that includes engaging in regular physical activity and eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can improve the likelihood of surviving a colorectal cancer diagnosis.

Written by Monica Naatey-Ahumah, BSc

Reference: Tanne, J.H. (2018). Healthy lifestyle leads to better survival in colorectal cancer, study finds. The British Medical Journal, 361. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k1671

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