3 Things You Need to Know From the New ACS Guidelines for Cancer Survivors

by Natalie on May 10, 2012

A few weeks ago, the American Cancer Society (ACS) released their most updated report on nutrition and physical activity recommendations for cancer survivors. This is the first update in 6 years! I was very interested to see what they had to say and thought you might be too.

Wondering if the recommendations apply to you? The ACS defines ‘cancer survivor’ as anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer, from the time they are diagnosed through the rest of their life.

The number of U.S cancer survivors is expected to reach above 12 million and continues to grow. About 1 in every 25 Americans is now a cancer survivor.

I was very pleasantly surprised to see such a large portion of the report focused on breast cancer. The report highlighted many recommendations specifically for breast cancer survivors. In this article, I will summarize the 3 most important things that apply to breast cancer survivors.

1. Body Weight

Achieving a healthy weight is one of the most important things a breast cancer survivor can do. The report strongly emphasized that overweight and obesity are clearly associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer and increased risk of breast cancer recurrence. Being overweight at the time of diagnosis reduces the likelihood of overall survival. To show you just how important achieving a healthy weight is, a recent study indicated that women who increased their body mass index (BMI) by 0.5 to 2 units, had a 40% greater chance of breast cancer recurrence. Women that increased BMI beyond 2 units had 53% greater chance of recurrence!

If you are overweight at the time of your cancer diagnosis, the ACS feels it is best to maintain your current weight and avoid weight gain while going through treatment. Weight loss is most appropriate and beneficial after completion of treatment. You may be encouraged to hear that even a small weight loss of 5% to 10% over 6 to 12 months can make a huge difference in your health!

A great way to see if you are at a healthy weight is to check your BMI. A healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9. Check your BMI here.

2. Physical Activity

Physical activity after a breast cancer diagnosis helps reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and improves survival rate. A recent study showed that post diagnosis exercise was associated with a 34% lower risk of breast cancer deaths, and a 24% lower risk of breast cancer recurrence. Exercise improves quality of life, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and self-esteem. Breast cancer survivors who participate in regular resistance and impact training have improved bone mass and improved muscle mass.

Lymphedema has been a big concern among breast cancer survivors. Multiple studies now show that physical activity is not only safe but reduces the risk of lymphedema and improves symptoms in those who already have it. For best results, increase any resistance training slowly and progressively. The ACS also states that use of compression garments may be helpful as well as the supervision of a trained exercise therapist.

The ACS recognizes that the effects of cancer treatment can make it difficult for some people to workout. If you think you may fall into this category, check with your oncologist to see if its OK for you to participate in regular activity.

Exercise Guidelines for Survivors

  • Avoid inactivity and return to normal activity as soon as possible after diagnosis or treatment.
  • Complete at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every week. Examples of moderate activity: ballroom dancing, biking on level ground, canoeing, general gardening, doubles tennis, walking briskly, or water aerobics.
  • Activity should be done in episodes of at least 10 minutes per session.
  • Strength training should be incorporated on at least 2 days of the week.

3. Food and Nutrition

In a study done on breast cancer survivors, a 43% reduction in mortality was observed in those who followed a diet pattern high in vegetables and whole grains. Overall, a diet pattern high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is associated with better long term survival among breast cancer survivors than a typical Western diet (meat and potatoes).

Getting enough protein is crucial during all stages of cancer treatment, recovery, and long-term survival. The best choices to meet protein needs are those lowest in saturated fat: fish, lean meat, skinless poultry, eggs, low-fat dairy, nuts, seeds, and beans.

When it comes to soy, current evidence does not show that soy intake is likely to have any adverse effects on recurrence or survival. Recent evidence also shows it does not interfere with Tamoxifen therapy but may have a positive synergistic effect. Though it was not discussed in the ACS report, it is important to choose whole soyfoods vs. processed soy foods. Processed soy foods may have negative health effects for breast cancer survivors. Whole soyfoods include soymilk, tofu, edamame, soy beans, and miso soup.

So what do you think? Learn anything new? Leave a comment in the comment box below.

If you are interested in checking out the full ACS report, you can do so here. Though I must warn you that it is pretty lengthy!


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