A new study reveals poor eating habits among those who have survived cancer

November 9, 2015 by Jacqueline Mitchell, Tufts University

Last month, Americans read the latest nutrition news with horror—researchers had established a link between cured meats and cancer. Even so, most people probably won't be skipping bacon at brunch this weekend—we're often slow to change our diets based on what's healthiest for us. But what if you've already had the fight of your life and won it? Do cancer survivors eat more or less healthy diets than the average American?

That's what Fang Fang Zhang, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Friedman School, and her colleagues sought to find out in their recent study, published last month in Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society. The team looked at the self-reported diets of more than 1,500 adults participating the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999 to 2010 to see how closely people managed to follow federal dietary guidelines.

They found that people who have survived cancer eat fewer green vegetables and whole grains than people without a history of cancer do. Survivors also weren't getting enough fiber, vitamin D, vitamin E, potassium or calcium, and were taking in too much sugar, fat and sodium, as defined by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services.

"Our findings reinforce the need for dietary intervention in this high-risk population," says Zhang. "It is remarkable that are still burdened by suboptimal dietary intake. Not getting enough fiber and having too many empty calories are established risk factors for many ."

Overall, cancer survivors had a total Healthy Eating Score of 47.2 out of 100, compared with 48.3 in adults without a history of cancer. Cancer survivors with less education and those who were current smokers had significantly worse diet quality than their counterparts. Among those who had battled one of the four major types of cancer in the United States—breast, prostate, colorectal and lung—breast cancer survivors adhered to the federal diet guidelines most closely. Lung cancer survivors had the worst diet quality.

Zhang adds that the study's design cannot determine whether cancer survivors developed poor eating habits before or after their diagnosis. If it's the latter, it could be the result of cancer treatments causing changes in taste preferences or high levels of emotional stress.

Either way, Zhang notes, "cancer survivors have significantly higher chronic disease burden than the general population. Even though the difference in does not sound large, improving eating patterns can be a particularly important focus for cancer survivors to reduce chronic disease burden and achieve a long and healthy life."

Zhang's findings indicate that nutrition should be integrated into routine care for cancer patients. Oncologists can reinforce the importance of a healthful diet, and can refer patients to registered dieticians who are expert in oncology care, she adds.

"Many cancer survivors are highly motivated to seek information about food choices and dietary changes to improve their health," says Zhang. "Future research is needed to understand how to help survivors make positive behavioral changes, including diet.

Explore further: Cancer survivors often have poor diets, which can affect their long-term health

Related Stories

Cancer survivors often have poor diets, which can affect their long-term health

October 13, 2015
While most cancer survivors in the United States are motivated to seek information about food choices and dietary changes to improve their health, a new study comparing their dietary patterns to federal guidelines indicates ...

Beating childhood cancer does not make survivors healthier adults

August 12, 2014
Having survived cancer as a child does not necessarily have a ripple effect that makes people lead a healthier lifestyle once they grow up. In fact, in a report derived from a National Cancer Institute-funded study of childhood ...

Cancer survivors make healthier choices than general population

February 23, 2015
Cancer survivors make healthier diet and lifestyle choices than the general population, according to a new study.

Cancer survivors need healthful lifestyle advice

February 18, 2015
(HealthDay)—Clinical interventions should be implemented to help cancer survivors make lifestyle behavior changes, according to research published online Feb. 13 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

Cancer survivors who smoke perceive less risk from tobacco

July 2, 2015
Cancer survivors who smoke report fewer negative opinions about smoking, have more barriers to quitting, and are around other smokers more often than survivors who had quit before or after their diagnosis, according to a ...

New guidelines address long-term needs of colorectal cancer survivors

September 8, 2015
New American Cancer Society Cancer Survivorship Care guidelines released today provide primary care clinicians with recommendations for providing comprehensive care to the estimated 1.2 million survivors of colorectal cancer ...

Recommended for you

Revealing the molecular mystery of human liver cells

October 22, 2018
A map of the cells in the human liver has been created by University Health Network Transplant Program and University of Toronto researchers, revealing for the first time differences between individual cells at the molecular ...

New tool gives deeper understanding of glioblastoma

October 22, 2018
Researchers in the lab of Charles Danko at the Baker Institute for Animal Health have developed a new tool to study genetic "switches" active in glioblastoma tumors that drive growth of the cancer. In a new paper in Nature ...

RNA thought to spread cancer shows ability to suppress breast cancer metastasis

October 22, 2018
Researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have discovered that a form of RNA called metastasis-associated lung adenocarcinoma transcript 1 (MALAT1) appears to suppress breast cancer metastasis in mice, ...

Targeting a hunger hormone to treat obesity

October 22, 2018
About 64 per cent of Canadian adults are overweight or obese, according to Health Canada. That's a problem, because obesity promotes the emergence of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

New drug combination destroys chemo-resistant blood cancer

October 22, 2018
Researchers from The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa have developed a promising targeted strategy to treat chemotherapy-resistant acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and a diagnostic test to determine which AML patients ...

Major trial shows targeted drug extends breast cancer survival

October 22, 2018
Combining a targeted drug with hormone therapy substantially extends survival for women with advanced breast cancer, a major clinical trial has found.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.