I heard a sad story from a patient today. A 50-something friend had just finished treatment for breast cancer, only to suffer a fatal heart attack.
All too often, oncologists are only thinking of a 5-year survival rate as it relates to cancer. A death that occurs that is not cancer related does not count against the statistics of cancer survival.
The problem is that dead is still dead to the cancer survior. Whether from cancer, heart disease or stroke.
We already know that there are some very close associations between all chronic diseases. Patients with heart disease are more likely to have colon cancer. Diabetic patients are at a much greater risk of pancreatic cancer. This list is pretty long.
This means that every cancer patient needs to be educated about the lifestyle changes necessary to increase survival. Cancer treatment can NOT be limited to what happens at the oncology office. Chemotherapy and radiation are only a part of the equation to ensure that you are going to outlive cancer.
This particular article drives this concept home. In it, researchers looked at 2,317 women, ages 50 to 79 years, who were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer to see what kind of an impact lifestyle had on the overall survival rates over 9.6 years. Here’s what they found:
• Women with better quality diets had a 26% lower risk of dying from any cause.
• They also had a 42% lower risk of death from non–breast cancer causes.
• Breast cancer death was 9% lower, although this was not considered significant.
• More importantly, in women with estrogen receptor positive tumors the risk of dying from any cause was an impressive 45% lower.
From this information, lifestyle clearly has an important impact on the survival of a cancer patient, even if it is not directly from the cancer itself. If we can understand that cancer treatment is incredibly harmful to the patient, then lifestyle becomes critical to protecting the cancer patient from additional damage during this time.
For those of you really interested in 12 standards that make up the “Healthy Eating Index” referred to in this study, you can find a synopsis of the details by clicking here. Overall though, these standards are not that difficult to meet, especially when your life is on the line…