AICR's Cancer Research Update

Issue 38 — March 10, 2010

Also in this issue:

  1. Linking Pancreatic Cancer to Soda
  2. Don’t Eat That vs. Yes, Eat This
  3. Healthy Diets Helping Ovarian Cancer Survivors
  4. In Brief: Snack Attacks
John Saxton

Scientist in the Spotlight: John M. Saxton

With a background in exercise physiology, John M. Saxton, a faculty member at the Centre for Sport and Exercise Science at Sheffield Hallam University in the U.K., is exploring how exercise and lifestyle interventions can promote improvements in quality of life, disease-free survival and physical function in cancer survivors. He recently completed an AICR-funded trial focusing on post-menopausal breast cancer survivors and is publishing a book on exercise and cancer survivorship early this year.

Q: As an exercise physiologist, how did you become interested in working with breast cancer patients?

A: Most people in my field work with athletes, but early in my career I worked in a hospital atmosphere and realized you can apply exercise science to clinical groups. One in nine women in the U.K. will develop breast cancer. It is a big issue for us and there is not much done in the U.K. to address the needs of this group.

In many ways, applying exercise science skills to a patient population is more fulfilling than working with athletes. Patient goals are health and life, not awards and medals. I would encourage more exercise scientists to work with patients. It is very rewarding work.

Q: How does exercise help cancer patients?

A: Going through treatment for cancer can have a physiological and emotional impact, and successfully finishing treatment carries the threat of the cancer’s return. Exercise is a way to improve physical and psychological health.

It can have a positive effect on psychological health status, which can impact stress hormone metabolism and, in turn, improve immune function. It also can result in positive improvements in quality of life.

Q: What did you find in your recent study with breast cancer patients?

A: Our breast cancer trial included 90 postmenopausal women who had recently completed treatment for breast cancer. We decided to include women with a BMI greater than 25 since their prognosis is generally poorer. Half of the women participated in three supervised aerobic exercise sessions per week and received dietary advice over the course of 24 weeks. We found that women in the exercise intervention group lost more weight and experienced improvements in aerobic fitness, general well-being and quality of life. We saw significant improvements in their depression scores.

Q: Do you have any exercise-related recommendations to women recovering from breast cancer?

With your gernerous support, AICR funds reserach in diet, physical activity and weight management. Please donate now.A: Moderate exercise is an excellent way to give breast cancer survivors a sense of getting control back in their lives. It can be empowering and motivate them to make positive changes. In focus groups we have conducted, we have found that participating in group exercise gives women confidence. In group exercise women can join forces with like-minded women with similar experiences and form new friendships. This has a positive impact on recovery and helps with overall emotional and physiological health, and it can even create a teachable moment where women may ask, “what can I do for myself now?”

Q: Besides breast cancer, are you working with any other groups of survivors?

A: We have very good links with a local cancer hospital and are working with prostate and colorectal cancer survivors. We recently completed a prostate cancer trial that was very well received by participants. Since androgen deprivation therapy to treat prostate cancer inhibits the effects of testosterone, we are looking at how lifestyle interventions can ameliorate its effects. We are also doing pilot work to look at whether exercise improves symptoms of fatigue in colorectal cancer survivors.

Excerpted from a profile in ScienceNow.

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Bag O' Chips.jpgIn Brief

Snack Attacks

Snacks now make up over a quarter of children’s daily calories — over 27 percent – according to a new study that looked at data from over 31,000 children. The study also found that children are now eating almost three snacks per day as compared with 30 years ago, when they ate an average of about one per day.

The largest increases came from salty snacks and candy. Desserts and sweetened beverages were the major sources of calories from snacks.

The study was published in the March issue of Health Affairs. Study researchers looked at national surveys of food intake in approximately 31,000 U.S. children, from 1977 to 2006.

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Research Roundup

Pouring Cola into a glassLinking Pancreatic Cancer to Soda

Drinking two or more sodas per week may significantly increase the risk of pancreatic cancer compared to drinking no soft drinks, according to a new study published in the February issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention. Pancreatic cancer is a relatively rare cancer but is the fourth leading cause of cancer death as it is difficult to detect.

This study looked at food intake of approximately 60,000 participants in a Singapore Chinese Health Study and tracked them for up to 14 years. During that time, 140 people developed pancreatic cancer. Drinking two or more sugar-sweetened soft drinks per week was associated with an 87 percent higher risk of pancreatic cancer. The few previous studies on this link, all in Caucasian populations, have reported inconsistent findings.

Although the researchers attempted to account for other associated risk factors, such as smoking and diabetes, the authors note that soft drink consumption ties to many other unhealthy lifestyle habits and it is difficult to separate them in a large population study, so more research is needed.

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Don’t Eat That vs. Yes, Eat This

BurgerDirecting dieters to the types of food they should limit as opposed to emphasizing the healthy foods to include may lead to more weight loss, but both approaches will help, according to a new study published in the February issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The study randomly split 68 overweight postmenopausal women into one of the two groups: One group focused on positive messages promoting fruits and vegetables without any advice about fat restriction; the other focused on decreasing high-fat food consumption. All the women were offered the same number of group and individual sessions with a dietitian.

After six months, both groups of women were consuming less calorie dense foods and had lost weight, yet women in the restrictive-message group lost significantly more weight than the positive-approach group. Women in the restricted-message group were consuming fewer high-fat foods, such as desserts.

But the women directed to eat healthier foods did, showing a higher intake of fruits and vegetables compared to the restrictive-message group. The dieters in this group who decreased the calorie density of their diet the most achieved greater weight loss.

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female reproductive organsHealthy Diets Helping Ovarian Cancer Survivors

Ovarian cancer survivors who were eating healthy diets before diagnosis may have longer survival times than those with poor diets, a new study suggests. The study is published in this month’s issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Because ovarian cancer has few symptoms, it is often diagnosed in the late stages. This is one of the first studies to evaluate overall diet with ovarian cancer survivorship.

The study evaluated the diets of 351 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Each participant reported their usual dietary intake over the three to five years prior to their diagnosis.

Overall, a plant-based diet recommended for cancer prevention was linked with improved survival. Higher total fruit and vegetable consumption, and higher vegetable consumption alone led to a survival advantage. Likewise, a statistically significant improvement in survival was observed for the healthier grains. Consuming higher intake of less-healthy meats (including hot dogs, hamburgers, and bacon) was associated with a shorter survival time.

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