All Cancer Treatments Should Include Lifestyle Improvements

The recent medical literature shows that certain lifestyle factors are associated with developing prostate, breast, colon, pancreatic and many other cancers and that changing these same lifestyle factors should be part of every treatment for people who are diagnosed with any type of cancer. Up to 40 percent of human cancers are at least partially caused by modifiable lifestyle factors (British Journal of Cancer, March 23, 2018;118:1130–1141). Lack of exercise, excess body fat or diets high in refined carbohydrates, red meat or processed meats increase risk for cancers of the stomach, colon, biliary tract, pancreas, lung, breast, prostate, endometrium and others (British Journal of Cancer, Jan 4,2011;104 (1): 6–11; European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007;61(Suppl 1):S112–S121).

Today, major university cancer treatment centers recommend that, within reason, all cancer patients should avoid known cancer-causing lifestyle factors:

• Smoking

• Alcohol

• Obesity

• Sugar-added foods and drinks and other refined carbohydrates

• Processed meats and meat from mammals

• Fried foods and grilled or charred foods

• Lack of plants (fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains and other seeds)

• Lack of exercise

• Chronic inflammation

• Various infections

• Certain hormones

• Immunosuppression

• Exposure to radiation (cumulative over lifetime)

• Exposure to various toxins (cumulative over lifetime)

Studies Showing that Lifestyle Changes Treat Cancer Lifestyle factors help to prevent prostate cancer recurrences (J of Urology, Sept 2005;174(1065–1070)). Men with prostate cancer who adopted a heart-healthy, plant-based diet rich in vegetables, fruit, beans, fish and whole grains were far less likely to die from their prostate cancer than the patients who continued to eat their typical Western diet (Cancer Prevention Research, published online June 1, 2015). A Mediterranean-type diet based on fruits and vegetables prolonged the lives of men previously diagnosed with prostate cancer (European Urology, May 2014; 65(5):887-894) and reduced risk for recurrence in men already diagnosed with prostate cancer (Int J Cancer, 2012, 131:201-210). Avoiding alcohol and overweight also helped to prevent prostate cancer recurrence (Cancer Causes & Control, January 6, 2015).

A seven-year study of almost 1000 patients with colon cancer that had already spread to their bellies had a 42 percent reduction in death rate and a 31 percent reduction in recurrence of their cancer when they:

• avoided overweight,

• exercised regularly (one hour of walking per day),

• ate a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and low in red meat and processed meat, and

• restricted alcohol (Abstract 10006, 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncologists, May 17, 2017).

A review of the world's literature showed that the lifestyle changes listed above can help to prolong the lives of patients who have already been diagnosed with cancer (Acta Oncol, Feb 2011;50(2):167-78), causing the World Cancer Research Fund, the American Institute for Cancer Research and the American Cancer Society to recommend that cancer patients follow a largely plant-based diet with limited consumption of meat, restriction of alcohol, maintenance of a healthy weight and a regular exercise program (Maturitas, May 19, 2017).

Benefits from Exercise During Cancer Treatment The Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) cites more than 30 journal references to show that regular exercise before, during and following cancer treatment decreases the severity of other adverse side effects and is associated with reduced risk of developing new cancers and comorbid conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and osteoporosis (Med J Aust, May 7, 2018). They recommend that:

• Doctors should prescribe exercise within physical limitations as part of cancer care.

• Cancer care should include referral to an accredited exercise physiologist or physiotherapist with experience in cancer care.

• All health professionals should discuss with their cancer patients the role of exercise in cancer recovery, to avoid inactivity and progress towards at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise and two to three moderate intensity resistance exercise sessions each week.

A study of 15,450 adult survivors of childhood cancer showed that regular exercisers gained a 40 percent reduction in death rate eight years after treatment (compared to non-exercisers), and the highest survival rate was in those who exercised 15 to 18 metabolic equivalent task (MET) hours per week, equal to brisk walking for about 60 minutes a day, five days a week (JAMA Oncology, June 3, 2018). National physical activity guidelines for cancer survivors recommend five days a week for 30 minutes per session.

My Recommendations Every person diagnosed with cancer should talk with his or her physicians about the lifestyle factors associated with their type of cancer and the very strong evidence that changing these lifestyle factors may help to prolong their lives. I have posted a longer version of this report, with many more studies and journal references, at

Get our newsletter