(NaturalNews) Head and neck cancers are malignancies that arise in the nasal cavity, sinuses, lips, mouth, salivary glands, throat, or larynx. According to the American Cancer Society, about 35,310 Americans will be diagnosed with these types of cancers in 2009 and 7,590 will die from these diseases.
However, a new study from the University of Michigan (U-M) Comprehensive Cancer Center shows that there's a way people diagnosed with head or neck malignancies can help themselves improve their survival outcomes. It doesn't involve a new kind of chemo or surgery, either. Instead, it is a natural approach -- living a healthy lifestyle including eating a lot of fruit, exercising, getting enough sleep and forgoing cigarettes and excess booze. In fact, the study, which appears online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, concludes that each of these factors is independently associated with survival of head and neck cancer patients.
"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," said study author Sonia Duffy, Ph.D., R.N., in a statement to the media. Dr. Duffy is 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.
The researchers asked 504 head and neck cancer patients about their smoking habits, their alcohol use, what they ate, how much they exercised and how many hours they slept. The research subjects were consequently surveyed every three months for two years and then once a year.
The cancer patients with the shortest survival time were those that smoked. Drinking excess amounts of alcohol was also associated with worse survival. Eating little fruit was linked to a poorer prognosis, too. In fact, although nutrition experts recommend consuming two servings of fruit per day, a third of the head and neck cancer patients reported eating fewer than four servings of fruit per month.. A lack of exercise also was shown to decrease survival.
Complicating matters is the fact that many of bad health habits are inter-related. For example, smokers are frequently heavy drinkers. So it may not be enough for a doctor to refer a patient to a smoking cessation program when alcohol could also be impacting overall health and cancer 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," said Dr. Duffy.
Previous research has already shown that a healthy lifestyle can help prevent cancer. "Eating fruits and vegetables, not smoking, and drinking in moderation can have a big impact on a person's risk of getting cancer in the first place. Now it appears that these factors also impact survival after diagnosis," Dr. Duffy emphasized.
The researchers are planning to now look at behavior changes over time to see if changing health habits when a person is diagnosed can impact survival. That information can help doctors determine what types of interventions or services should be offered to head and neck cancer patients.
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