Lifestyle and quality of life in colon cancer survivors

Quantity and Quality

Survivors of colon cancer often have symptoms associated with the cancer or treatment for years after treatment, such as fatigue and tingling in fingers and feet. This has a great impact on the perceived quality of life. Whereas current lifestyle advice is mainly aimed at prevention of (colon) cancer, Marlou-Floor Kenkhuis studied in her PhD the relationship between lifestyle with quality of life and fatigue in colon cancer survivors. The goal was to provide targeted lifestyle advice to help patients experience a better quality of life.  This was one of the first studies in this field worldwide that looked at all facets of lifestyle in this group in relation to quality of life, Marlou-Floor will defend her research on November 22, 2022 at Maastricht University.

Lifestyle advice and quality of life after treatment

One of the first things patients ask when they are diagnosed with colon cancer is, "Can I do anything about it?” This question can be interpreted in several ways. For one, the treating physician will look primarily at treatment for physical health. However, just because someone is "clean" and healthy again after treatment does not mean that the person is rid of all problems. Indeed, the majority of patients have long-term symptoms such as fatigue and tingling in fingers and feet. This worsens the quality of life of this group of people. Targeted lifestyle advice can improve quality of life and reduce symptoms. Until now, however, only research had been done on lifestyle advice for the prevention of cancer. In an ongoing study, the EnCoRe study looking at lifestyle and quality of life in colorectal cancer survivors, Marlou-Floor investigated what lifestyle advice may be important.

Lifestyle is a package deal

Within lifestyle there are several facets including exercise, sitting and nutrition. Whereas previous research looked at these individual recommendations, in this research they are all included in the form of a lifestyle score. After all, lifestyle is a package in which all facets are important and can influence each other. One can reinforce the other. The study resulted that interventions aimed at increasing physical activity and reducing sedentary behavior are particularly likely to be relevant, as are improving dietary habits such as increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and reduced consumption of sugary drinks and processed foods. The findings also suggest that a recovery phase should be considered in the immediate period following cancer treatment. For example, it may be important to realize that getting back to the old weight after treatment does not have to be harmful, but may actually be beneficial in improving quality of life.

Why is this research important?

According to Marlou-Floor, the social relevance of this research lies mainly in the paradigm shift that is taking place; where previously the main focus was on life extension, an extra year through treatment, now quality of life is becoming increasingly important. "The question from patients is no longer just how long they will live, but how they will live." With this research, Marlou-Floor wants to create awareness around this topic and expand the spectrum of lifestyle advice from prevention to also post-treatment that is patient specific. That there is still something to change about the lifestyle after treatment of colon cancer patients is therefore certain, but how exactly, that is something the future will have to show. 

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