Keep Cancer From Returning
There’s A Way To Keep Cancer From Returning—So Why Aren’t Doctors Talking About It?
Article source: Prevention.Com June 2015
When Ken was 71 years old, he fell out of a tree and was injured. In the emergency room, the doctors took an x-ray and saw a broken rib, as well as a mass in Ken’s left lung accompanied by enlarged lymph nodes. He was immediately referred for a biopsy—which confirmed the mass was a small-cell cancer—and a total-body CT scan, which showed that it had not metastasized. Ken was referred for chemotherapy and radiation, and after 6 weeks of concurrent treatment, he was told the tumor had dissolved completely. At Ken’s final visit with his oncologist, he was told that he would be seen for a scan and blood work in 6 months. Ken asked, “So, Doc, what should I do now to decrease the chance of a recurrence?” His doctor replied, “Do whatever you want!”
Ken’s experience was not unique. The standard farewell given to patients by their oncologists after they’ve completed cancer care is “See you in a few months.” When asked what they should do in the meantime, they are given a vague answer such as “Now you can get back to your old life!”
Ken, like many patients, was not satisfied with his doctor’s answer. Other than his cancer, he was fit and healthy. He had a lot to live for, and he knew that only 20% of patients with his tumor type and grade made it to the 5-year mark following their diagnosis. He wanted to optimize his chances for survival, and he wanted a plan that would give him some semblance of control rather than just wait for his next appointment.
If Ken had had a heart attack, he would not have left the hospital without an appointment for cardiac rehab. Depending on where he was being treated, at this first appointment, he might have been assigned a physical trainer, a nutritionist, and even a counselor. Over the course of 12 weeks, Ken would have seen these practitioners several times a week, learning how to handle stress, how to shop for and cook heart-healthy foods, and how to establish an exercise routine. Over the last 20 years, heart disease has come to be accepted as at least partly a disease of lifestyle, and cardiac rehab has become an accepted part of its treatment.
The cardiac rehab triad of better nutrition, exercise, and stress management leads to fewer repeat heart attacks and better patient outcomes. Better still, patients who go through rehab are less likely to develop diabetes, high blood pressure, and a host of other conditions. After 12 weeks of rehab, a high percentage of patients establish new habits and substantially change their lifestyles.
Cancer, however, is still treated as though it is a bolt of lightning out of the sky. Other than urging patients to stop using tobacco, oncologists rarely ask their patients to make direct connections between their lifestyle and their cancer.
But we now know there are strong, documented ways to prevent recurrence. There are correlations, for example, between obesity and a sedentary lifestyle and certain types of cancer—so why aren’t more patients being told to at least move more after their treatment is over? Why aren’t more tactics presented to help patients live their healthiest lives post-treatment?
We three doctors—Gerald Lemole, Dwight McKee, and Pallav Mehta—have varied backgrounds and experiences, but we agree with Ken that cancer care should not stop with the final visit to your oncologist. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy treatments for cancer are nothing less than extraordinary. Millions of lives have been saved through their use. But their focus is on destroying cancer cells, not strengthening healthy cells. Once their use is complete and treatment is over, there is still work to do. There is now overwhelming data that shows exercise, good nutrition, and management of stress can improve the likelihood of cancer survival and prevent recurrence. And there is no dispute that strengthening your immune system through a healthy lifestyle will allow you to live a healthier life in general.
Yet 95% of people who have been treated for cancer either are not using or are underusing these powerful strategies. The main reason for this is simply lack of knowledge. Few cancer patients are aware of the research showing the correlations between lifestyle and cancer, and few oncologists are trained to provide advice to patients regarding after cancer care. Some patients, as was the case with Ken, do their own research and find the correlations between lifestyle and cancer on their own. Through various sources and advice from multiple practitioners—including an integrative oncologist, if they live in a place where there is a practitioner—they piece together a plan for after care. But we’d like to see this type of care for all cancer patients, not just those with the ability to access it.
Here are 8 ways to lower your risk of a cancer recurrence:
1. Try to eat a Mediterranean diet or an Asian diet, (high in unprocessed vegetables and lean meats such as fish). Both are based on the idea of balance and include foods high in important nutrients and vitamins.
2. Eat small meals throughout the day to avoid insulin spikes. Insulin has been shown to be a growth factor in cancer.
3. Avoid or eat in moderation, processed meats, trans fats, refined sugar, alcohol, and processed foods.
4. Be active, whether it’s running a long distance or just playing golf, any form exercise is helpful. After cancer the body can be tired and weak, but physical activity in moderation can help build it back up and prevent a recurrence.
5. Detox your house—get rid of reusable plastic containers and utensils, any carcinogenic cleaning products, nonstick pots and pans, carpet, vinyl shower curtains, and pesticides.
6. Go organic! Toxins in foods are even more harmful for those in remission.
7. Manage stress with activities such as yoga, meditation, tai chi, and reiki. Studies have shown that stress makes the body weaker in fighting cancer cells.
8. Create a support system, whether it’s a program at your hospital, community center, church or just your family and friends. They will help you both emotionally and physically.
Brian Forsythe of EHF EXECUTIVE HEALTH AND FITNESS is a natural competitive bodybuilder and personal trainer with over 20 years of experience in the fitness industry