April 04, 2009
Lifestyle After Cancer Diagnosis Matters For Survival

Smokers, problem drinkers, couch potatoes, and people who don't each much fruit all have lower survival rates once diagnosed with cancer.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. Head and neck cancer patients who smoked, drank, didn't exercise or didn't eat enough fruit when they were diagnosed had worse survival outcomes than those with better health habits, according to a new study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"While there has been a recent emphasis on biomarkers and genes that might be linked to cancer survival, the health habits a person has at diagnosis play a major role in his or her survival," says study author Sonia Duffy, Ph.D., R.N., associate professor of nursing at the U-M School of Nursing, research assistant professor of otolaryngology at the U-M Medical School, and research scientist at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.

Each of the factors was independently associated with survival. Results of the study appear online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The researchers surveyed 504 head and neck cancer patients about five health behaviors: smoking, alcohol use, diet, exercise and sleep. Patients were surveyed every three months for two years then yearly after that.

Smoking was the biggest predictor of survival, with current smokers having the shortest survival. Problem drinking and low fruit intake were also associated with worse survival, although vegetable intake was not. Lack of exercise also appears to decrease survival.

It could be that the smokers get more deadly cancer in the first place. All these influences might act on the body before one gets cancer. For example, sustained oxidative stress will age the immune system more rapidly. So once you get cancer your immune response to it will be weaker if you've been living a dissipated lifestyle.

What I'd like to see: Compare cancer survival time to telomere length at time of cancer diagnosis. The other factors above might work by shortening telomeres and worsening the ability of the body to fight off cancer. Obesity and stress accelerate chromosome telomere tip aging and chronic stress shortens immune cell telomeres. Regards the reference above to lack of exercise: a sedentary lifestyle shortens telomeres too. Plus, getting less vitamin D appears to shorten telomeres as well.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 April 04 04:11 PM  Biotech Advance Rates

rob said at April 5, 2009 8:16 AM:

Huh, fruit but not vegetable consumption. Kinda odd. What's the difference? Vitamin C?

I've had an amateur opinion that eating vegetables is healthful because precancerous and cancerous cells are more vulnerable to their various toxins, and reduced blood sugar stresses cancerous cells more than healthy cells.

US said at April 5, 2009 4:02 PM:

I also wonder about the causal link between exercise and patient outcomes: People who are very sick from cancer don't run a lot of marathons. Maybe the exercise is not what's helping the patients survive - maybe what's helping them survive is the fact that they're healthy enough to exercise.

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