People who have lifestyles consistent with guidelines established by the American Cancer Society (ACS) tend to have a lower risk of death from cancer and a better quality of life, according to a 2018 study in JAMA. These guidelines include achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in red and processed meat.
Researchers examined data on 992 patients (average age 60) with stage-three colon cancer enrolled in a chemotherapy trial. The patients were given scores based on body mass index, level of physical activity, and types of foods eaten. Scores ranged from 0 to 6, with higher numbers reflecting healthier behavior. Over a median seven-year follow-up, 299 patients died and 335 had recurrent colon cancer.
The researchers found a 42 percent lower risk of dying and a lessened risk of recurrence in the 91 patients who had a score of 5 or 6 compared with 262 patients who scored either 0 or 1. In absolute terms, adherence to the ACS guidelines was associated with a 9 percent reduction in the risk of death at five years, compared with a score of 0 to 4. These numbers improved further when low alcohol consumption was factored in.
The findings were associative, not causal; there may be other reasons that patients with higher scores had better survival. But until it is proven that a healthier lifestyle results in improved survival, it’s probably safe to say it doesn’t hurt.