Dr. Ligebel helps Sylvia develop an exercise routine

Dr. Jennifer Ligibel (right) is one of numerous researchers at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center looking at the impact of exercise and other lifestyle factors on cancer recurrence.

While certain habits are known to increase risk of developing cancer, little information has been available about the effect of lifestyle after cancer diagnosis – until recently. Mounting research is showing that diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors can make a difference in the chances of cancer recurrence and survival after cancer develops.

“We are seeing that the choices people make can influence results,” says Dr. Jeffrey Meyerhardt, Director of Clinical Trials in the Center for Gastrointestinal Oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center.

Studies led by Dr. Meyerhardt have found that rates of colon cancer recurrence are lower in people who eat a healthy diet, exercise, and take aspirin. Conversely, a diet high in red meat, refined grains (such as white bread), and sugary desserts may increase risk of colon cancer recurrence.

Research has found that women who are physically active after breast cancer diagnosis have a 30 to 50 percent lower risk of breast cancer recurrence, breast cancer death, and overall death compared with sedentary individuals. Dr. Jennifer Ligibel, a medical oncologist and researcher in the Center for Breast Oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, has explored processes linking cancer and exercise, as well as ways to motivate sedentary cancer survivors to begin exercising.

“While the reason for this effect is not fully understood, scientists believe at least in part that these lifestyle changes impact insulin levels and factors that can drive cancers to grow and spread,” said Dr. Ligibel.

Dr. Meyerhardt and Dr. Ligibel are currently enrolling patients in a study testing the effects of exercise and/or an insulin-reducing medication used for diabetes after completion of treatment for stage I, II, or III colon or rectal cancer. This study is open to patients who have completed treatment and have no history of diabetes. For more information regarding this study, please call Laura Shockro at (617) 632-5934 or Devin Wigler at (617) 632-3687.

Patients with newly diagnosed breast cancer may be interested in a study comparing the effects of exercise and a mind body intervention on certain levels in breast cancer cells. A different trial is exploring the impact of exercise on indicators of disease in normal breast tissue among women at risk of developing the disease. For more information regarding these ongoing studies, please call Laura Shockro at (617) 632-5934.

“The bottom line is that what you do on a day-to-day basis can make a difference,” said Dr. Ligibel.

-Jessica F

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