Monday, April 21, 2008

Cancer Survivors More Obese Than Most

Breast cancer survivors are among the least physically active cancer survivors, which turns out to be a pretty sedentary group. In a study published in the June 1 issue of Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society, Canadian researchers discovered that cancer survivors, for the most part, have a surprisingly unhealthy lifestyle. Among the least active are colorectal, breast, and female melanoma survivors. The most active: male skin survivors

Twenty-one percent of the 114,000 Canadians who were interviewed for the study were physically active; 18 percent were obese. By comparison, 25 percent of Canadians are physically active and 15 percent are obese.

Breast cancer survivors were only about half as likely to be physically active as women who had not had cancer. This despite the fact that both diet and exercise are linked to a reduced risk of cancer and its recurrence.

Why do patients not adopt the healthy habits that can ? There are several possibilities.

• They don’t know about the research.
• Their treatment left them exhausted, depressed, or both, neither of which is conducive to starting a diet or exercise regimen.

If they don’t know that obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are dangerous, why not? Are doctors not focusing on the whole patient, looking only at the cancer and not the rest of the body? That was the case with my docs—nary a one told me to eat well and exercise. Perhaps they knew I was already a health nut? Perhaps they didn’t know the research themselves? Perhaps they only have time to do so much? Whatever the case, it is a sad medical system that keeps doctors from sharing essential health information with their patients.

If the problem is with exhaustion or depression, that’s equally sad, as exercise and diet can help both.

If you know anybody who is recovering from cancer—breast or otherwise—encourage them to get out and walk, to eat their veggies and fruits and reduce their dietary fat. If they have trouble getting started, offer to go walk with them and make it a social event. Bring fresh fruit for a snack.

I was fortunate in that I had made major diet and exercise changes before I was diagnosed, so I just continued my existing plan. But it had been so difficult to get started and keep going— even while I was healthy. I wonder how hard it would have been for me to get going while I was sick.

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