A new year and a new decade promises new understandings of the link between lifestyle and cancer risk and survivorship. But what specific trends will the new decade bring? A group of experts predict the top six trends that will play a major role.
1. Prioritizing nutrition in cancer care — Alice Bender, MS, RDN
Health-conscious consumers have long recognized the importance of healthy eating and good nutrition not only for cancer prevention, but also during cancer treatment and survivorship. There is substantial evidence that diet plays a crucial role in all these areas, but referring patients to a dietitian for maintaining nutritional status has often not been prioritized in clinics.
Now, many oncology health professionals are embracing nutrition and recognizing that when patients work with an oncology dietitian, their ability to manage and complete treatment improves. Prioritizing nutrition and integrating oncology nutrition professionals into the cancer care team through treatment and survivorship is crucial. It will be a major step toward managing treatment and improving overall health outcomes, including reducing risk for chronic diseases post-treatment.
2. Technology to spread awareness of cancer risk — Sheena P. Swanner MS, RDN, LD, AICR director of nutrition programs
Awareness is the first step towards lowering cancer risk and technology will play a big role in increasing awareness in the new decade. Technology can help educate individuals in a unique way to help them understand what steps they can take to live a healthier lifestyle and then put those steps into action.
In the coming decade, people will turn even more to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram — along with additional platforms — for information. Technology has the ability to spread messages to people of various groups, populations, and ages. A continued focus on educating the public about cancer prevention and survivorship can lead to lower rates of cancer and many other chronic diseases.
3. A focus on dietary patterns — Edward Giovannucci, MD, SCD, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard University
The general consensus of many researchers is that the whole dietary pattern, rather than individual components, is most likely to be strongly associated with cancer risk. It is better to focus on how the entire dietary pattern influences major bodily processes, such as insulin/glucose, metabolism or inflammation. These are more likely to have an impact on cancer risk than any single nutrient. Experts also note, however, we should not ignore the potential role of single nutrients, which may still play a role.
4. Physical activity prescriptions for cancer patients — Nigel Brockton, PhD. AICR vice president, research
A growing body of research suggests that exercise may help cancer survivors’ health in many ways. Over the next decade, exercise and physical activity will become a part of the recommended standard of practice for cancer patients and survivorship in the same way that it is for cardiovascular disease. The prescriptions will be optimized so that the timing, type and dose of activity provide maximum health benefits. We don’t have the evidence to design those prescriptions yet, but it is coming.
5. Our microbes, nutrition and cancer — Nigel Brockton, PhD. AICR vice president, research
There are trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms living in and on us that we as humans depend upon for our health. Many of the nutritional factors and responses that we had hoped to unravel through human genetics will be understood to a much greater extent in the context of the microbiome — the genes of these microbes — particularly the human gut microbiome. The tools for microbiome research are relatively new so it is a bit like the early omics era but, like the omics, we will learn how to use and manipulate the microbiome to improve efficacy of therapies, reduce toxicities and improve overall health.
6. Improved understanding of obesity and cancer — Elisa V. Bandera, MD, PhD, professor and chief, cancer epidemiology and health outcomes, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
Research over the last decade has more clearly shown that too much body fat increases the risk of many common cancers, including esophageal, colorectal, and postmenopausal breast. Aside from not smoking, staying a healthy weight throughout life is the single most important way to protect against cancer. Improvement in our understanding of the impact of obesity on cancer risk will continue to emerge. There will also be advances in the impact of obesity on cancer treatment — such as chemotherapy dosing — and survival by better characterizing body composition.
This article was originally published on January 15, 2020, by the American Institute for Cancer Research. It is republished with permission.