Healthy Diet, Exercise Might Lower Chances of Cancer's Return

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter
Sunday, June 3, 2007; 12:00 AM

SUNDAY, June 3 (HealthDay News) -- In an era of highly complex medications with highly complex mechanisms and even more complicated names, take comfort that some basic (and pronounceable) lifestyle changes can have an impact on cancer outcomes.

Diet and exercise still matter, according to two studies that were presented Saturday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago.

One study found that individuals with stage III colon cancer who had undergone surgery and chemotherapy had higher odds of relapsing or dying if they followed a predominantly "Western" diet of red meat, fat, refined grains and dessert.

"This is the first large amount of data to look at whether diet affects colon cancer survivors, and the suggestion is that dietary factors may have an effect," said study author Dr. Jeffrey Meyerhardt, an assistant professor of medicine at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, both in Boston. "Certainly we need more studies to understand the patterns. We also need to emphasize that diet is not a substitute for standard treatment."

Dr. Neal Meropol, director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Program at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, added: "This suggests that diet can influence not only the development of cancer, but the chance that your colon cancer will come back. This is a very important result because it suggests that one can make a behavioral adjustment that could reduce their risk of dying from colon cancer."

Meropol emphasized, however, that the issue of diet and cancer development or recurrence is an extremely complex one.

People with stage III colon cancers have positive lymph nodes, although the cancer does not indicate any evidence of spreading outside of the local colon area. Standard treatment is surgery followed by chemotherapy.

More than 1,000 patients with stage III colon cancer who were participating in a trial of adjuvant chemotherapy were asked to complete questionnaires on their diet for six months after the chemotherapy ended. Researchers then tracked the participants to see if their cancer recurred or if they died.

Dietary patterns fell into two categories: "Western," which involved a high intake of red meat, fat and dessert, and "prudent," meaning high fruit, vegetable, poultry and fish consumption.

The two dietary patterns did not necessarily preclude each other. "Everyone has some score for each of those patterns," Meyerhardt stated. "Someone might eat a lot of hamburger and a lot of vegetables."

People who consumed the highest levels of the Western diet had almost quadruple the risk of recurrence or death compared with those who consumed the least in this category.

"Those who had a higher intake of a Western-pattern diet characteristic of more red meat and dessert had a significantly higher risk of recurrence and mortality, about four times as high," Meyerhardt said.

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