I've Tested Positive, Now What?
Nutrition, exercise and weight
Eating a well-balanced diet, exercising on a regular basis and maintaining a healthy body weight have many health benefits. All three factors have been linked to better overall health and better outcomes related to cancer. This applies to people diagnosed with cancer and those who are at increased risk due to an inherited mutation. Balanced diet, exercise and ideal body weight are important strategies for staying healthy, but you should never rely on them alone to treat or prevent cancer. Speak with your health care provider before making changes to your diet or exercise routine.
Experts, including the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), the American Cancer Society (ACS), the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention () have guidelines on nutrition, exercise and ideal body weight relative to cancer risk, treatment and survivorship. Below is an overview of the recommendations across different expert groups.
Consume a healthy diet with an emphasis on plant-based foods
- Limit the amount of processed and red meats:
- Eat at least 2.5 cups of vegetables and fruits a day.
- Chose whole grains instead of refined grain products.
- Limit intake of refined sugar
- Drink no more than 1 alcoholic drink per day (women).
- Consider referral to a registered dietitian.
- Experts do not recommend supplement use for most survivors, except in instances of documented nutritional deficiencies, inadequate diet, or other indications (eg., ).
- Survivors of certain cancers (eg., gastrointestinal cancers) may be at risk for vitamin deficiencies based on their cancer treatment. Deficiencies should be asessed and addressed as needed.
- Little data exist to support the use of vitamins or other dietary supplements for the purposes of cancer control, recurrence, or prevention.
- Taking vitamin supplements does not replace the need for a healthy diet. All efforts should be made to obtain nutrients from food and beverages.
- AICR recommends that people try to meet their nutritional needs through a healthy diet. They do not discourage people from taking a multivitamin supplement, but they warn people not to rely on supplements alone to protect from cancer.
- Stay physically active.
- Get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week.
- Include two to three sessions per week of strength/resistance training that include major muscle groups
- Engage in some general physical activity daily (eg., taking the stairs, parking in the back of parking lot)
- physical activity includes exercise, daily routine activities, and recreational activities
- Avoid prolonged sedentary behavior (eg. Sitting for long periods).
Certain types of cancer, treatment or surgery can affect appetite and lead to weight loss or poor nutrition. Hormonal therapies and early menopause may cause weight gain. To maintain an ideal body weight, experts recommend:
- Balance what you eat with your physical activity to avoid unwanted weight gain or loss.
- Consult with a registered dietitian to assure that you are receiving the right amount of nutrients in your diet.
Weight gain can be common side effect from treatment or from early-onset menopause. For weight loss, experts recommend:
- Replace foods that are high in calories with low-calorie, nutritious foods.
- Practice portion control by using smaller plates and avoiding extra servings.
- Track diet, calories and physical activity routines.
Nutritionists and dieticians are experts in food and diet with a focus on helping people maintain or improve their health. Dieticians are experts who have received additional training and certification. You can find a registered dietician in your area through Eatright.org, the website for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. You can search for nutritionists by specialty, including "cancer," "weight management" and "heart health."
The American College of Sports Medicine has a “ProFinder” search tool that allows you to locate certified fitness professionals by location and specialty.
The following are studies focused on nutrition and cancer prevention.
- Energetics and Lifestyle in Inherited Syndromes (ELLIE’s Study). ELLIE’s Project is designed to look at factors, such as weight, Body Mass Index, metabolism, dietary habits and activity levels that may affect cancer risk in people with inherited mutations linked to cancer.
- NCT05094466: Parent and Family Obesity Intervention in Reducing Obesity Risk in Racial Ethnic Minority Families. This compares the effects of parent/caregiver-focused programs to family-focused programs in reducing obesity risk in racial ethnic minority families.
- NCT04374747: Fruit and Vegetable Intervention in Lactating Women to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk. This trial is for nursing mothers. This study will look to see if eating at least 8 to 10 daily servings of fruits and vegetables reduces breast cancer biomarkers.
- NCT03448003: Comprehensive Lifestyle Change To Prevent Breast Cancer. This trial looks at how well lifestyle changes work to prevent breast cancer. Premenopausal women 18 years and older with intact breast and ovaries are eligible.
- NCT04192071: Virtual Human Delivered Nutrition Module for Colorectal Cancer Prevention. This study will develop and test an interactive nutrition module for use with colorectal cancer screening to learn which messages and graphics promote understanding of cancer risk and promote screening.
Visit our Featured Research Page and Research Search and Enroll Tool to find additional studies enrolling people with, or at high risk for cancer.