FEB 05, 2024 3:00 AM PST

Living a Healthy Lifestyle Improves Cancer Survivorship

WRITTEN BY: Katie Kokolus

Let’s start with some good news: the number of cancer survivors in the United States continues to grow due to improvements in screening methods and advancements in therapeutic options.  For all cancers combined, five-year survival has reached 69%.  In addition to the growing number of cancer survivors, we have also seen longer survival times after a cancer diagnosis.  Unfortunately, in some cases, these individuals may suffer from long-term disabilities and ailments that negatively impact their quality of life. 

To make the best of life after cancer, survivors may look for suggestions from their doctor on lifestyle changes that could help improve their health and long-term survival.  Research has linked several modifiable risk factors to cancer survival, including diet, exercise, and smoking cessation.  While we have information on the impact of several lifestyle factors individually, extensive research has yet to investigate how these factors interact and, thus, how an overall healthy lifestyle can impact survivorship. 

A new study published in the International Journal of Cancer investigated how individual lifestyle factors influence mortality in cancer survivors.  For this study, the researchers utilized data from four databases covering different countries.  Researchers retrieved data from the United States using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHIS).  Also, data from British and Chinese cohorts came from the UK Biobank (UKB) and KaiLuan study, respectively. 

Researchers calculated a healthy lifestyle score (HLS) based on five factors: smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, physical activity, and body mass index (BMI).  The study then related HLS to cancer survivorship.  From the four databases, the study extracted data from 37,095 cancer survivors.  Outcomes for the survivors in the study included 8,927 all-cause deaths.  In the US and UK cohorts, the data had 4.449 cancer-related deaths.

The study demonstrates that an overall healthy lifestyle can improve survival after a cancer diagnosis.  For all-cause survival, cancer survivors who reported never smoking, light alcohol consumption, adequate physical activity, a healthy diet, and optimal BMI significantly benefited.  Eating well, exercising, reducing alcohol intake, and not smoking can help a cancer survivor live 48% longer.  For cancer-related mortality, survivors with a high HLS fared 43% better. 

Of the five factors included in the HLS, a healthy diet reduced all-cause mortality risk the most (31%).  Never smoking also had a significant impact, reducing cancer-related deaths by 23%.  Similarly, low alcohol consumption (14%), optimal BMI (11%), and adequate physical activity (10%) contributed to the reduction in all-cause mortality.  Notably, the addition of each successive healthy lifestyle factor extended all-cause and cancer-related mortality.   

The authors conclude that their multicohort study of cancer survivors from the US, UK, and China demonstrated improved cancer survivorship in those who adhere to a healthy lifestyle after their diagnosis.


Sources: CA, JAMA Oncol, Nutrients, JAMA Oncol (Cao), Cancer Comm, Int J Cancer, Front Cardiov Med

About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
I received a PhD in Tumor Immunology from SUNY Buffalo and BS and MS degrees from Duquesne University. I also completed a postdoc fellowship at the Penn State College of Medicine. I am interested in developing novel strategies to improve the efficacy of immunotherapies used to extend cancer survivorship.
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