Objective: Improving diet and exercise can reduce survivors' risk of cancer-related fatigue, poor physical functioning, and potential recurrence. A cancer diagnosis can represent a 'teachable moment', leading survivors to make positive changes in diet and exercise behaviors; however, little is known about how often this occurs or about factors that enhance or limit survivors' ability to make these changes. This cross-sectional descriptive study investigated both the prevalence and clustering of self-reported changes in diet and exercise and how these changes related to ongoing cancer-related symptoms, social support, and stressful life events among long-term breast cancer survivors.
Methods: Survivors (n=227, response rate=72%) of a prior Cancer and Leukemia Group B treatment trial, on average 12 years post-diagnosis, completed a mailed survey assessing health behavior changes since diagnosis and current symptoms, social support, and stressful life events.
Results: Over half of survivors reported making positive exercise or diet changes since diagnosis: over 25% reported making exercise and diet changes. Analyses of covariance models showed that survivors who reported increasing their exercise also reported lower fatigue. Trends were also found between increased fruit and vegetable intake and decreased fatigue and between increased exercise and increased social support.
Conclusions: These results underscore the need for health promotion efforts among survivors. Exercise promotion is especially needed since more survivors attempted to change dietary behaviors than exercise on their own. Further, fatigue may limit survivors' ability to change their health behaviors; alternatively, survivors who increase their exercise may experience less fatigue.
(c) 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.