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Exercise and diet key in new, updated guideline for cancer survivors

Kaiser Permanente research scientists contribute to new American Cancer Society guidelines


For cancer survivors, getting regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy diet are 2 of the most important modifiable factors for improving long-term health and increasing the likelihood of survival, according to new survivorship guidelines released by the American Cancer Society.

The new report, American Cancer Society Nutrition and Physical Activity Guideline for Cancer Survivors, was published March 16 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

Lawrence H. Kushi, ScD, research scientist, Division of Research.

The new ACS guideline was developed by a committee of scientific experts in nutrition, physical activity, oncology, community health, and disparities who reviewed the research that had been published since the last guidelines were developed in 2012. The authors include Lawrence H. Kushi, ScD, and Bette J. Caan, DrPH, research scientists at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research.

“Over the past decade, the field of cancer survivorship has grown rapidly,” said Kushi, who led the report’s breast cancer working group. “Because of this research, we now know, for example, that physical activity, both prediagnosis and postdiagnosis, is associated with a reduced risk of dying from many different types of cancer. Many people say a cancer diagnosis is a wake-up call to change their lifestyle. This research shows that making these changes can really make a difference.”

The reasons why exercise is so beneficial are only beginning to be understood. “We are continuing to look beyond a patient’s body mass index or simple weight as we learn more about the relationship between body composition, particularly muscle mass, and cancer survival,” said Caan, who led the colorectal cancer working group. “Having adequate muscle reserves leads to better outcomes.”

Bette Caan, DrPH, research scientist, Division of Research.

There are currently 16.9 million cancer survivors in the United States. The report’s recommendations to improve long-term health and increase the likelihood of survival include:

  • Avoid obesity and maintain or increase muscle mass through diet and physical activity.
  • Engage in regular physical activity, with consideration of the type of cancer, patient health, treatments, and symptoms and side effects.
  • Follow a healthy eating pattern that meets nutrient needs and is consistent with recommendations to prevent chronic disease.
  • Follow the general advice of the American Cancer Society guideline for diet and physical activity for cancer prevention to reduce the risk of a new cancer.

The ACS guideline recommends a healthy diet rich in vegetables, legumes, fruit, whole grains and low in red and processed meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, highly processed foods, and refined grain products.

Read more about the new guidelines here.

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About the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research

The Kaiser Permanente Division of Research conducts, publishes and disseminates epidemiologic and health services research to improve the health and medical care of Kaiser Permanente members and society at large. It seeks to understand the determinants of illness and well-being, and to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of health care. Currently, DOR’s 600-plus staff is working on more than 450 epidemiological and health services research projects. For more information, visit or follow us @KPDOR.

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