Sunday, March 20, 2011

Cancer Patients' Nutrition Advantage

The American Cancer Society projected that 1,529,560 new cancer cases and 569,490 deaths from cancer would occur in the United States during 2010. I used to see figures that 1/3 women and 1/2 men would receive a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. I don't know if those odds are still current, but  in any case, the numbers are staggering.

Survival statistics continue to show an increase in the number of cancer survivors (current figures are 12+ million in the US) with the vast majority of those millions going on to "get back into their lives". However, to finish treatments and recover well to do more than "just survive" but to actually thrive and achieve full health and wellness takes much more than wishful thinking, much more than just being told to drink some canned liquid dietary supplement, much more than a recommendation to "eat right and exercise", and much more than being handed a pamphlet of good eating tips.

Hats off to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Lebanon, NH for being among the leaders who recognized early that individualized nutrition services needed to be part of services offered in order to provide their patients with true comprehensive cancer care. Hiring their first Registered Dietitian (RD) in 2000, they have continued to increase the staffing of RDs and the array of involvement and services provided to reach as many of their patients as possible, including community involvement focused on cancer prevention.

If your cancer center does not yet have a full team of dietitians (including some/all being certified in the nutritional oncology specialty, which the initials RD, CSO signify after their name), here is a great article to show you that it can be done! Feel free to copy it and then show it to your oncologist and the administrator for your cancer center to help push or pull them along to provide true comprehensive cancer care for you and your community!

Now I will be the first to say that not nearly enough research has been done to really nail down exactly how, when, where, and what are all the best nutritional interventions in each individual case to get the most bang for the buck (to be crude about it). However, that should no longer be a stated reason (old excuse) for a cancer center not providing top-notch nutritional services at a cancer center (and no, it is not good enough for the nurses to be handling all the nutrition issues, for which not only do they do not have professional expertise, they do not have enough time!). Which of the zillion cancer treatments currently offered provides iron-clad proof that the treatment will work on any one individual with 100% certainty for that word everyone wants to hear, "i.e., the cure"? None, none, none, it's as simple and as scary as that.

You may be interested in listening to a podcast by 3 of the top researchers in the field of nutritional oncology as they examine and discuss the current evidence supporting nutrition recommendations for cancer survivors and the role RDs can play in preventing cancer recurrence and managing chronic conditions prevalent in cancer survivors, as well as improving quality of life and decreasing health care costs. (I hope this link works; I have never linked a podcast before - it is about 17 minutes long.)

The authors are discussing the following article they recently wrote:
"Evidence-Based Nutrition Guidelines for Cancer Survivors: Current Guidelines, Knowledge Gaps, and Future Research Directions"
Authors: Kim Robien, PhD, RD, CSO, FADA, Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, PhD, RD, Cheryl L. Rock, PhD, RD Journal of the American Dietetic Association, March 2011 (Vol. 111, Issue 3, Pages 368-375)

All three of these researchers have dedicated their careers to improving the nutritional care of cancer patients, plus all three are friends of mine. To be honest, I feel like I am a "groupie" for each of them. I love reading their articles, I love their work (I have helped to fund Wendy's work with one of my AICR grants and I wish I had millions of dollars to fund each of them for decades), I wish I could split myself into multiple pieces to work with each of them, and I just love being with each of them, knowing they are caring, committed, and compassionate human beings.

So yes, we have a long way to go to better define the most effective nutritional care for cancer survivors and devise a health care system that will deliver that care, but that is no reason to not provide the best care we know how to do right now.

Lastly, if you are a breast cancer survivor who is considered overweight and would like to participate in the clinical trial mentioned in the podcast that is designed to evaluate if weight loss will decrease the risk of recurrence, I encourage you to do so if you live in any of the following 4 locations:
1) San Diego, CA - contact Shoshi Barkai, MS, RD     858-822-2779  
2) Denver, CO - contact Rebecca Sedjo, PhD     303-724-4585  
3) St. Louis, MO - study website -   contact Casey Fagin     314-747-1109    
4) Birmingham, AL - contact Karen Kubas, MS RD LD     205-996-7367    

Further information can be found at the following National Cancer Institute clinical trials website: Reducing Breast Cancer Recurrence With Weight Loss (ENERGY)

So, again kudos to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center for providing the "state of the science" nutritional care for the patients at their cancer center. If you are reading this, and your cancer center has published an article about the wonderful nutritional care provided at your cancer center, please send me the link at the following email address cancervictorygarden (at) . I would love to give your cancer center a "shout-out", too!

Now back to sorting and packing!

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD


kathy brogan said...

Thank you so very, very much. When I completed my 36th radiation treatment I was told to go home and live as I always had, which made no sense to me. I know that nutriition is key to my survival and this podcast has helped me alot. I already have been diagnosed with Osteopinia and will work on eating a whole foods diet.

Kate Wolin said...

Diana, Thanks for posting about the study. If women in the St Louis area are interested in learning more, they can visit our study website -

Diana Dyer said...

Thanks for the link. I put it in the full article, too. If you know of direct links for the other sites, please let me know and I'll get them posted, too.

I send all my best wishes for a complete recovery with full health, healing, happiness, and "active hope". :-)

Unknown said...

AMEN to this. I read "Life Over Cancer" by Dr. Block who is an integrative oncologist and it finally gave me the answers I was looking for. I, too, had been told to just carry on with my normal life and thought that was stupid--not to mention feeling like a sitting duck. I now know that nutrition is critical to my survival (breast cancer survivor - not overweight, thankfully). I have gone mostly vegan and take daily supplements and it has made a HUGE difference in my health. I am a true believer.

Diana Dyer said...

Thanks. I'm glad to know my post resonated with you. Even though my oncologist wrote the foreword for my book, he finally told me when I was 5 years past my recent cancer diagnosis that he did not believe I would be cancer-free at 2 years out. That is when he finally told me to "keep doing what I was doing" with enthusiasm. Although I may be wrong, I think before then, he was simply polite. I am now at 16 years and counting after 1995 breast cancer diagnosis and nearly 27 years past my 1984 breast cancer diagnosis. I am not a research study, just a case study meaning n=1, but I am a believer, too. :-)