The role of diet and nutrition in cancer survivorship

Cancer and survivorship image

Over the last couple of decades, cancer has become one of the most important, burdensome and expensive non-communicable diseases facing populations and health-care systems globally (1). Worldwide, the incidence of cancer is increasing year on year with cases expected to rise by 70% in the next 20 years (2).  In the UK, it is estimated that by 2020, almost half of people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime (3). 

However, cancer is no longer a terminal diagnosis with survivor rates doubling in the UK in the past 40 years (4). Increasing numbers of people are surviving, but with ever more chronic conditions, sound nutritional advice is necessary. This improved prognosis brings new challenges, and it is important to understand the interaction between diagnosis, treatment and survivorship, and nutrition. Whilst it is estimated that one third of common cancers are modifiable through improved lifestyle factors, further research is required to determine whether dietary recommendations for cancer prevention can be extended to cancer survival.

First and foremost, patients need to know how to manage their diet and optimise their lifestyle throughout multiple points in the cancer pathway. This may be advice on the severe side-effects of chemotherapy, including problems swallowing or with appetite loss, or following successful treatment, how to change diet and lifestyle to reduce chance of recurrence of tumours.

Equally, it is vital that clinicians respond to the needs of patients by providing support and guidance, not just generic healthy living advice. In order to maximise patient support, there is a growing need to recognise the role of nutrition in chemotherapy, understand the potentially distinct dietary strategies for prevention of cancer recurrence and develop the management of the co-morbidities associated with cancer survivorship.

Recognising the new challenges to patients, practitioners and researchers, Nutrition Society Theme Lead Professor Ailsa Welch and Dr Bernard Corfe, Honorary Programme Officer, created a programme for the 2017 Winter Conference which focused on the mechanistic, human and public health implications of survivorship. The conference, in partnership with the Royal Society of Medicine, drew together international expertise at a timely point in the evolution of cancer management and survivorship strategies. Read the conference report.

‘This conference comes at an important time. Evidence is building about how diet and lifestyle can help cancer survivors but we have much more to learn. I am very pleased that we are able to hold this conference on such an important topic.’  Professor Ailsa Welch, Public Health Nutrition Theme Leader

References

  1. Naja, F. & Nasreddine, L. (2017) Diet and Cancer. Buttriss, JL., Welch, AA., Kearney, JM. & Lanham-New, SA. (ed). Public Health Nutrition, 2nd Edition. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester. The Nutrition Society, pp 243-283
  2. WHO (2017) Cancer. Fact sheet no. 297 (accessed September 2017)
  3. MacMillan (2017) Cancer Statistics Factsheet (accessed September 2017)
  4. Cancer Research UK (2014) Cancer survival statistics (accessed September 2017)

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