ANN ARBOR, Mich. Head and neck cancer patients who smoked, drank, didn't exercise or didn't eat enough fruit when they were diagnosed had worse survival outcomes than those with better health habits, according to a new study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.
"While there has been a recent emphasis on biomarkers and genes that might be linked to cancer survival, the health habits a person has at diagnosis play a major role in his or her survival," says study author Sonia Duffy, Ph.D., R.N., associate professor of nursing at the U-M School of Nursing, research assistant professor of otolaryngology at the U-M Medical School, and research scientist at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.
Each of the factors was independently associated with survival. Results of the study appear online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
The researchers surveyed 504 head and neck cancer patients about five health behaviors: smoking, alcohol use, diet, exercise and sleep. Patients were surveyed every three months for two years then yearly after that.
Smoking was the biggest predictor of survival, with current smokers having the shortest survival. Problem drinking and low fruit intake were also associated with worse survival, although vegetable intake was not. Lack of exercise also appears to decrease survival.
"Health behaviors are only sporadically addressed in busy oncology clinics where the major focus is on surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. Addressing health behaviors may enhance the survival advantage offered by these treatments," says Duffy, a U-M Cancer Center investigator.
Complicating matters is that many of these health behaviors are inter-related. For example, smokers might also be heavy drinkers, making it more difficult to quit. It's not enough, Duffy points out, to refer someone to a smoking cessation program if alcohol is a major underlying problem.
In addition, previous
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