An Emphasis on Diet, Lifestyle in Cancer Care and Beyond

A poster presented during the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) Congress detailed the implementation of a lifestyle medicine clinic for patients with a history of cancer led by an advanced practice nurse and registered dietitian.

“Diet and lifestyle are linked to a third of all cancer cases in the United States and approximately 70% of all cancer survivors in the United States are overweight or obese,” said Loren Winters, MSN, ANP-BC, OCN, who presented the poster. “Currently, the national guidelines for cancer prevention includes diet and lifestyle counseling. Healthy lifestyle behaviors are also shown to reduce the recurrence risk of certain cancers. Furthermore, cancer survivors are at greater risk for other chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis.”

The innovative lifestyle medicine program was created by the Lifestyle Medicine multidisciplinary team at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Cancer Center (CC). An advanced practice oncology nurse and oncology registered dietitian head up the MGH CC Waltham clinic. Patients with a history of cancer are referred to the program by their cancer care team. The program emphasizes a diet rich in whole foods and plants, exercise, proper sleep, managing stress, and more. Free exercise videos and webinars are provided to patients.

Feedback from patients has been positive. “Superb listening and reflection. I felt heard and validated but still empowered to be strong and make changes,” said one 52-year-old patient with a history of breast cancer. Similarly, a 47-year-old patient with a history of breast cancer said, “I found the consultation to be helpful, specific, and tailored to me.”

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, lifestyle medicine has been converted to telehealth visits, but patients find this to be less burdensome than in-person visits.

“Future directions include shared medical ‘group’ visits to improve the patient experience by providing an interactive setting in which patients can learn and inspire each other to adopt lasting health behavior change,” Winters concluded.