Risky health behaviors don't necessarily stop with cancer diagnosis

A cancer diagnosis doesn’t automatically lead to an overhaul of unhealthy habits, says a study in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship.

People who had survived various cancers had similar rates of physical inactivity, unhealthy eating habits and other risky health behaviors as people not diagnosed with cancer, the study found. Some habits, such as smoking, were more prevalent among survivors, particularly women.

Healthy foods and regular exercise can reduce health complications and prolong survival after a cancer diagnosis, but this information needs to be communicated more effectively to patients, the researchers said. An estimated 14.5 million Americans are cancer survivors, according to the study.

The American Cancer Society recommends survivors maintain a healthy weight, avoid smoking and inactivity, minimize alcohol consumption and consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

The study, at the University of Oklahoma, included 47,139 cancer survivors and 407,191 controls without cancer, age 18 years and older, who participated in a 2013 survey of health-related behaviors among U.S. residents. The analysis was adjusted for age, gender, education, health insurance and poor mental health.

Just under two-thirds of survivors and controls were overweight or obese, and about 83 percent of both groups didn’t meet the recommended fruit and vegetable guidelines.

Although smoking rates were generally lower among men who had survived cancer than controls, 19.8 percent of women cancer survivors smoked, compared with 15.8 percent of women without cancer.

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