People might think that cancer survivors have adopted healthy eating habits after beating the illness. However, study showed only 47.2 percent of cancer survivors meet dietary guidelines. The finding is alarming because, relatively, 48.3 percent of average Americans who never had cancer meet the same dietary needs.
Nutrition scientist and study co-author Wendy Demark-Wahnefried explained that in the past, people diagnosed with cancer were sort of given the message that they can 'eat whatever they want, put their feet up'. The increasing number of cancer survivors has changed the past message to one that says, 'the chances are you are going to survive'.
However, with the risk of survival also comes the risk of developing other diseases or perhaps a relapse. In this case, healthy eating habits and better nutrition improve the odds of cancer survivors of living longer. Demark-Wahnefried is also the associate director at University of Alabama at Birmingham Comprehensive Cancer Center.
An American study looked into 1,533 adult cancer survivors in the U.S. with the survey conducted from 1999 to 2010. A group of 3,075 Americans who never had cancer also took part in the study wherein the two groups listed what they ate in the past 24 hours. Researchers found 47.2 percent of the cancer survivors met the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The cancer survivors' diets were low on vegetables and whole gains. The survivors also consumed a little more fat, alcohol and sugar compared to participants who never had cancer. The survivors didn't meet the recommended daily amounts of calcium, potassium, Vitamin E and D needed.
"It is surprising. They had poor adherence to the dietary guidelines for Americans and their intake patterns were worse for fiber and empty calories and from solid fats and added sugars," said Fang Fang Zhang from Tufts University in the U.S.
The authors, however, pointed out that their study didn't look into the timeline of the cancer survivors' illness. It is possible that the onset of cancer might have affected their eating habits. Demark-Wahnefried expressed that the survivors' diets could be naturally poor prior to the illness and the habit continued post-treatment. The authors also didn't look into what could be driving such unhealthy diets.
The study focused on the four major cancer cases, namely, prostate, breast, colon and lung. Zhang shared that lung cancer survivors have the unhealthiest diets of all four groups. On the other hand, breast cancer survivors had the healthiest eating habits in relation to the four.
Center for Integrated Research in Cancer and Lifestyle director Dr. Stephen Freedland expressed how dietary differences between cancer survivors and average people is very little. Freedland added that there is very little research done on what cancer survivors should eat and the data they have on hand is not that extensive. To date, doctors do not have substantial evidence to help them guide cancer patients on what they can't eat to lower the risk of cancer relapse.
While some have adopted a healthier lifestyle and better eating habits, majority of cancer survivors think that the cancer has been cured and it's time to put the memory behind them and move on.
The authors published their study on the journal Cancer on Oct. 13.