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Maintaining a healthy lifestyle throughout cancer survivorship enhances quality of life

May 28, 2013


Healthy lifestyle scaleThe National Cancer Institute estimates that approximately 13.7 million cancer survivors were alive in the United States in 2012. By 2022, they expect the number will increase to nearly 18 million.

Cancer survivorship begins at the time of diagnosis and continues throughout the rest of a patient’s life. There are three different phases of cancer survivorship: living with, living through and living beyond cancer. Living with cancer refers to the time between a cancer diagnosis and any treatment that may follow. Living through cancer is the period following treatment in which cancer recurrence is more potentially possible. Living beyond cancer refers to post-treatment and long-term survivorship.

Each phase of survivorship has a unique set of obstacles, but one issue is important throughout: maintaining a healthy lifestyle. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), more than half of all cancer deaths could be prevented by making healthy lifestyle choices, such as maintaining a healthy weight, eating nutritiously, staying physically active, avoiding tobacco and limiting alcohol consumption.

  • Maintaining a healthy weight. The best way to determine your healthy weight is by finding out your Body Mass Index (BMI). Your BMI is a numerical score based on the relationship between your height and weight. For many survivors, the effects of cancer and cancer treatments can make it hard to maintain a healthy weight, but eating nutritiously and staying physically active can help.
  • Eating nutritiously. Common side effects for cancer survivors, such as loss of appetite, mouth sores, nausea and vomiting, can affect eating habits. But, eating nutritiously is important for healing, fighting infection and having enough energy. Consider the following when adopting a healthy diet: drink eight to 10 glasses of water per day, limit consumption of processed or red meat, eat at least 2.5 vegetables and fruits per day and choose whole grains instead of refined grains.
  • Staying physically active. According to the ACS, adults should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderately intensive or 75 minutes of vigorously intensive activity each week. Exercise benefits both mental and physical health, and research shows that cancer survivors who exercise after diagnosis have fewer recurrences and better clinical outcomes. Examples of exercise include: walking, cycling, swimming, gardening and sports.
  • Avoiding tobacco and limiting alcohol consumption. While one-third of all cancer deaths in the United States each year are linked to diet and physical activity, another third is caused by tobacco products. Quitting smoking can improve your treatment outcomes and prevent cancer recurrence. Also, limiting your alcohol intake is important. ACS recommends no more than one alcoholic drink per day for women or two per day for men.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle throughout cancer survivorship gives survivors a sense of well-being and enhances quality of life. For more information on cancer survivorship, visit

About the author
Tzann T. Fang (pronounced “Fong”), M.D., is assistant professor of internal medicine at VCU Massey Cancer Center and the medical director at Community Memorial Healthcenter (CMH) Cancer and Specialty Care on behalf of Massey. He specializes in medical oncology, hematology and bone marrow transplantation.

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