I have long dreamed of a day when the NHS recognises the vital role of nutrition, exercise and psychological support for cancer patients. In fact, I wrote a blog post about it more than five years ago. Trust me to miss it when the day finally dawned…
Rehabilitation for People with Cancer is an evidence-based study that shows diet and lifestyle changes can increase empowerment, resilience and long term health in cancer patients. Commissioned by Macmillan Cancer Support, National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and The Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA), the report calls for changes to the delivery of cancer care across the UK. With cancer projected to affect one in two of us, it’s a major news story but few newspapers found it worth reporting when it was released on 2 July 2019.
The evidence shows that patients who take steps to improve their health during the treatment process may be able to receive better treatments, experience fewer side effects, and recover more quickly. The recommendations include the creation of personalised plans for cancer patients covering the basics of wellbeing: diet, exercise, alcohol, smoking and weight management.
It’s a paradigm shift in terms of the way we see cancer. We’ve known for a long time that poor diet and lifestyle choices increase the risk of diagnosis, but experts have been slow to acknowledge that making better choices can improve outcomes. This report tells us that medical treatment is not the only effective option for cancer patients: oncologists who impatiently dismiss arguments in favour of diet and lifestyle changes will need to update their ideas; patients who want to be part of their own recovery plan can feel reassured that their efforts are worthwhile. It opens up new fields of research too: if simple diet and lifestyle changes can make a difference to outcomes, what could we achieve with more radical approaches?
It’s great to know the health service is waking up to this vital element of survival but of course there will be a significant lead time before these measures can be implemented. If you watched my short video you will remember that I talked about my desire to bridge the gap in NHS provision, and that’s what I have been doing for the last twenty years. All of my nutrition and supplement plans are designed to work alongside NHS protocols and carefully checked for interactions with the treatments you are undergoing and drugs you are taking. My aim is to minimise side effects, maximise treatment effects and support a quick and complete recovery when treatment is over. I also help clients to identify their personal risk factors using health analysis, functional testing and nutrigenetics in the hope of reducing recurrence.
This report is a milestone for you and for me. For me, because cancer outcomes are notoriously difficult to measure, it provides strong validation for the work I do. For you, it provides a solid evidence-base to stand on when discussing your plans for improving your wellbeing during treatment and beyond even if the health service hasn’t had the time or budget to catch up with the findings in the report.
If you would like to use the power of diet and lifestyle changes to improve your health after a cancer diagnosis please book a free exploratory chat.
Here are some of the quotes from the experts involved in putting the report together:
June Davis, Advisor for Allied Health Professionals at Macmillan Cancer Support, says:
“Being diagnosed with cancer can turn life upside down and many people experience anxiety and uncertainty whilst they wait to start treatment. Prehabilitation supports people during this difficult time to prepare both physically and mentally for treatment, reclaim a sense of control and improve their health in the long-term.
“We want to see prehabilitation implemented soon after diagnosis so that people living with cancer feel empowered to improve their health and get the personalised care they need. To make this a reality we urgently need the Government to invest in the NHS workforce so that there are enough professionals with the right skills and resources to deliver this care now and in the future.”
Professor Mike Grocott, RCoA council member and Joint Project leader, says:
“Prehabilitation offers people with cancer personal empowerment at a time when they often feel that they have little control over what is happening to them. As a consequence, we see better quality of life as well as improved resilience to the effects of cancer treatments resulting in fewer complications. All this adds up to happier patients experiencing real health benefits.
“As a Consultant Anaesthetist working in Southampton, my patients tell me how prehabilitation offers them the opportunity to take control of their own care. We all see the improved resilience that prehabilitation brings, not only enabling more rapid recovery following treatment, but on occasions opening the possibility of receiving treatments that were previously out of reach. The potential value of long-term behavioural change and the positive health impact this change may deliver is enticing to all involved – patients and professionals alike.”
Dr Lucy Allen, Head of Collaborations, National Institute of Health Research, says:
“On receiving a diagnosis, people with cancer face many challenges. For some, the cancer may already have affected their physical and nutritional state, and their psychological wellbeing before treatment starts. Individually and collectively, such changes can decrease resilience to the cancer and affect the response to surgery or systemic anti-cancer treatment. Put simply, being physically, nutritionally and psychologically ‘unfit’ is associated with increased risks and complications during treatment. The challenge therefore is to identify those who are at risk and prepare them ahead of their treatment in an attempt to reduce their risks and complications, and improve their response to treatment.”