Healthy Lifestyle Linked to Longer Lifespan for Childhood Cancer Survivors
Everyone should make healthy choices. These habits help us feel better. They can prevent conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
But healthy choices may be even more important for childhood cancer survivors. They face unique health risks — even decades after having cancer. Some cancer treatments can lead to health problems years after therapy ends. These are known as late effects.
But there is hope.
Childhood cancer survivors can take action after cancer treatment to decrease the risk of future problems.
A Childhood Cancer Survivor Study report published last month in the leading medical journal The Lancet shows that healthy behaviors in survivors were linked with a lower risk of death. Survivors who led healthy lifestyles had a 20% lower risk of death due to health-related causes than those who had unhealthy lifestyles.
A healthy lifestyle includes:
- Not smoking
- Physical activity
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Moderate alcohol consumption
Survivors who did not have common cardiovascular risk factors were also at a lower risk of death. Cardiovascular refers to the heart and blood vessels. Cardiovascular problems include diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
Act to lower health risk
The study found that the main causes of death in adult childhood cancer survivors were the same as those for adults who did not have childhood cancer. These include:
- Second cancers
- Heart disease
- Chronic liver and kidney disease
The difference is survivors overall have these at younger ages and at higher rates.
Many cancer survivors focus their health care on cancer screenings and other cancer-related follow-ups, which are important. But cancer survivors should also pay attention to their overall health care and preventing other health-related problems.
The study shows that survivors can take control over some health risks. So, do your best to stay on top of your health.
Visit a primary care provider
If you do not already have one, find a primary care provider.
You should go to this care provider at least once a year. The provider may be a physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant. They can help you with your overall health and everyday concerns.
A regular checkup includes:
- Blood pressure check
- Blood tests to measure substances such as cholesterol and blood sugar (glucose)
- Information about needed screenings and vaccines
- Discussion of your health history and your family’s health history
Your primary care provider can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle. They can give you tips on physical activity and good nutrition. They can also provide resources to help you stop unhealthy habits. These include smoking, vaping, and drinking alcohol in excess.
Share your survivorship care plan
It is important to share an updated copy of your survivorship care plan at each visit.
A survivorship plan includes:
- Treatment summary
- Recommended screenings and tests
- Possible late effects of cancer treatment
This information is important for your primary care provider. Remember that childhood cancer is rare. So, you may be the first childhood cancer survivor your provider has seen.
It is crucial to find a health care provider who listens to you and your concerns. You can work together to take care of your special health care needs. Your treatment center may be able to refer you to someone in your community.
Learn more about health risks
All childhood cancer survivors do not have the same risks. But all survivors can benefit from healthy choices. Part of a healthy lifestyle is working with a health care provider to prevent or manage chronic conditions early. These conditions may include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
We know people who have had certain treatments have a higher risk of some chronic health problems. These treatments include:
- Chest radiation
- Brain radiation
- Chemotherapy with anthracyclines and alkylating agents
We continue to learn more about what puts childhood cancer survivors at higher risk for serious health conditions.
We know that having cancer affects the rest of your life. That includes both the therapy you received and the social and emotional challenges of going through cancer treatment. All these may affect your health risks.
But the good news is that taking action to lead a healthy lifestyle can decrease your risk for health complications. You should do all the things everyone else should do to stay healthy. Knowledge is power. When you have the information, you have the ability to improve your health and your life.
Learn more from Together
Fitness in Childhood Cancer Patients: How to Stay Physically Active During and After TreatmentFeb 2, 2021