6 Ways to Beat Back Cancer

Date: December 1, 2016      Publication: Bottom Line Health      Source:  Lorenzo Cohen, PhD, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center      Print:

These lifestyle factors can help you defy the odds…

From time to time, we all hear about cancer patients who defy the odds and live longer than anyone predicted—or even, in some cases, have a complete remission. Why does this happen? No one knows for sure. Researchers are trying to understand this puzzle. Here’s what we’ve learned so far…


Some cancers simply disappear. We know, for example, that about 5% of patients with advanced kidney cancer will have spontaneous remissions. This doesn’t mean that they’re cured—the cancer could return at some point. But for some reason, these patients do much better than others.


Genetic factors surely play a role. Researchers have identified a number of “response mutations” in various types of tumors that somehow make them more likely to respond positively to treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation.


Research is ongoing, but there’s evidence suggesting that the six steps below are important in getting the best possible outcome—and can help prevent cancer from developing in the first place…

Take control and manage stress. “Negative” emotions, such as anxiety and depression, are a normal response to a life-changing illness. Yet there’s good evidence (both from human and animal studies) that chronic stress can make your body more susceptible to cancer growth—and that reducing stress may make a difference.

Important research: A study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry found that breast cancer patients who participated in a 10-week stress-management program had an increase in cancer-controlling gene expression (such as type 1 interferon response genes) for improved immune function and a decrease in genes that control inflammatory molecules that promote cancer growth. An analysis of the 11-year survival data found that the women in the stress-management group lived significantly longer than those in the control group.


My advice: Engage in a stress-management activity every day (for example, meditation, yoga, relaxation techniques, etc.)…strive to bring that state of calm with you throughout the day…and get counseling if you need it.

Get a good night’s sleep. Poor sleep and disruptions in the body’s biological clock (as occurs with shift work, for example) have been linked to the development of certain malignancies, including breast and prostate cancer. Now research is suggesting that sleep may play a role in cancer survival.

My advice: The sweet spot seems to be about seven hours of sleep a night. Some people need a bit more, but you don’t want to get much less. Research has shown that the risk of dying from all causes—not just cancer—is higher in those who get less than six hours of sleep a night.

Watch your weight. People with a higher body mass index (BMI) have greater concentrations of inflammatory molecules…more insulin resistance…and more estrogen and cancer-related growth factors.

And the effects can be significant. Obese patients are not only more likely to be diagnosed with cancer but also to have a cancer recurrence. They tend to have more complications from surgery, chemotherapy or other treatments as well.


My advice: People with a BMI of 27 or higher should make a serious effort to lose weight. They’ll get a double benefit because the two main weight-loss strategies—a healthier diet and more exercise—will also improve cancer recovery and survival. Important: Consult your doctor about the ideal time to lose weight during your treatment—it may not be appropriate at all stages of cancer care.

Get more exercise. It is well known that regular exercise can help prevent many types of cancer. But can it also help cancer patients live longer? The jury is still out.

Thus far, observational studies—those that look at large populations of people—do suggest that it might make a difference. Exercise is believed to decrease circulating levels of cancer-promoting inflammatory markers and increase aspects of immune function that can help to control cancer growth.

My advice: Exercise at least 30 minutes a day at least five or six days a week. Any amount of activity helps—even 10-minute bouts every few hours count. Also avoid sitting for hours at a time.

Reduce exposure to toxins. Cancer-causing chemicals are all around us. Hormone disrupters, such as bisphenol A (BPA) and parabens, are in some plastic bottles and cosmetics and can alter hormonal functioning and increase cancer risk. Carcinogens, such as formaldehyde and benzene, can be in wallpaper, paint, wood floor finishes and other household products.


My advice: Avoid personal-care products that contain parabens, phthalates, triclosan and synthetic fragrance. Use glass and stainless steel containers instead of plastic. Ventilate your home when painting or refinishing floors.

The healthy plate formula…

To help fight cancer, it’s important to make wise food choices throughout the day. Here’s how: Fill half your plate with vegetables (organic, if possible) at every meal, including breakfast. The other half should contain protein, fruits (preferably organic) and whole grains. Try replacing meat with sardines, salmon and other cold-water fish (loaded with omega-3 fatty acids) and beans at least four times a week for a healthy source of animal and plant proteins. Add spices and herbs, which are filled with healthy phytochemicals. It’s also smart to eat fewer “white” foods, including white bread, white rice, etc. These and other high-glycemic foods are quickly converted to glucose, which increases levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factor (a cancer promoter). Helpful: Meet with a dietitian to help guide you in healthy eating. To find a registered dietitian near you, consult the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics,

Source: Lorenzo Cohen, PhD, the Richard E. Haynes Distinguished Professor in Clinical Cancer Prevention and director of the Integrative Medicine Program at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He is also a distinguished clinical professor at Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center in Shanghai, China, vice-chair of the Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine & Health, and a founding member of the International Society for Integrative Oncology.