"A Family Affair"-Survivors and Their Families Shouldn't Wait to Make Lifestyle Changes


Two new studies highlight the need for cancer survivors and their families to get guidance on healthy lifestyle changes and when the best time might be to integrate them.

Two new studies highlight the need for cancer survivors and their families to get guidance on healthy lifestyle changes and when the best time might be to integrate them.

The first study, published in Oncology Nursing Forum, found that the time between a cancer patient’s final treatment and their first posttreatment checkup was the ideal time for both the cancer patient and the family to change their lifestyles for the better.1

"A window of opportunity exists during the posttreatment transition period for oncology clinicians to reach out to patients and their caregivers who want to have a healthy start on life after cancer," Susan Mazanec, PhD, RN, AOCN, assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University's Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, said in a statement.

Mazanec and colleagues surveyed 50 patients who had been diagnosed with breast, colorectal, head and neck, lung, or prostate cancers and 38 caregivers within 3 weeks of a patient’s last treatment. The questions were designed to gauge family members’ intention, perceived benefit, and confidence about eating a healthy diet, participating in physical activity, and quitting smoking.

The study found that while family members expressed strong intentions to engage in health-promoting behaviors related to nutrition and physical activity, they also reported high levels of emotional distress. The most common health-related goals identified by patients at the completion of treatment were related to physical activity and nutrition.

Another study, published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, found that cancer survivors need help in order to make healthy lifestyle changes.2

The study, led by Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, PhD, RD, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, looked at current diet and physical activity guidelines for cancer survivors and the evidence supporting them. The authors found that while many healthy lifestyle interventions worked, they aren’t widely used as a standard of care.

And although more research is needed in this setting, clinicians shouldn’t wait to try to help their patients, and it is up to the oncologist and oncology care team to give advice on lifestyle changes to cancer patients as part of survivorship care.

"As evidence supporting the role of lifestyle change in cancer populations continues to grow, infrastructure to support these programs and coverage for these services is needed to ensure that cancer patients are able to optimize cancer-specific and overall outcomes in the years after cancer diagnosis," the authors wrote.

Mazanec is now testing new interventions to help survivors and family members engage in physical activity together and support each other's efforts in behavior change.

And while the time between final treatment and first follow-up often brings back the rush of emotions that surface within weeks of diagnosis, it is also a period that offers survivors, and their family members, a chance to look toward the future.

"Cancer is a family affair that may offer an opportunity to teach people about good health behaviors," Mazanec said.


  • Mazanec S,. Flocke SA, Daly BJ, et al. Health behaviors in family members of patients completing cancer treatment. Oncol Nurs Forum. 2015;42(1), 54-62.
  • Demark-Wahnefried W, Rogers LQ, Alfano CM, et al. Practical clinical interventions for diet, physical activity, and weight control in cancer survivors [published online February 13, 2015]. CA Cancer J Clin. doi: 10.3322/caac.21265.

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