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.