Cancer survivors diet not as healthy, study reveals

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Oct 14, 2015 06:00 AM EDT

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 06: Junk food sits on a table as British Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver announces a partnership to attack state-wide obesity on March 6, 2012 in Melbourne, Australia. The Victorian Government and the Good Foundation will pledge together over AUD5 million to bring Oliver's 'Ministry of Food' to the state to help teach cooking techniques and nutrition to participants and help combat obesity as part of the Victorian Healthy Eating Enterprise. (Photo : Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

A survey has found that most cancer survivors tend to take on a less nutritious diet instead of trying to eat healthily because of what they went through. The findings were detailed in the journal Cancer.

The study led by epidemiologist Fang Fang Zhang from Tufts University was taken from the data of more than 1,500 cancer survivors and around 3,000 people who have never had cancer. The groups were matched together and then compared their dietary intake on the Healthy Eating Index, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The researchers found that people who have never had cancer fared better than the other group.

The cancer survivors had a Healthy Eating Index of 47.2, while the other group had 48.3. Additionally, the cancer survivors subsist primarily on empty calories, fat, refined sugars and had lower fiber intake.

Additionally, researchers also looked at the type of cancers. They found that lung cancer survivors had the worst diets while breast cancer survivors had the healthiest of the bunch, Medscape reports. Older cancer survivors tend to eat better than their younger counterparts and the same goes for those who had higher educational attainment compared to those who were less educated.

"These findings reinforce the need for dietary intervention in this high-risk population," Dr. Zhang told the outlet. "Nutrition is one of the cornerstones for cancer prevention and control. Unfortunately, nutrition is not typically integrated into the delivery of optimal care for cancer patients."

While unhealthy diet is a rampant trend among the high-risk group, the study doesn't answer why cancer survivors eat less nutritiously than those who never had the disease.

"The differences may be due to differences in cancer symptoms and treatment-associated side effects that can impact diet," Zhang explained. "or psychosocial factors, such as anxiety and depression associated with different cancer diagnoses."

According to Dr. Zhang it may be due to several reasons such as having worse diets before the cancer, LA Times reports. Another reason may be how cancer treatments can change the taste receptors of the patients even for months after the treatment.

Zhang recommends cancer survivors to eat more fiber-rich fruits, vegetables as well as whole grains and other foods that are low in sodium, solid fats and sugar. Additionally, the researchers also call out to cancer doctors to talk about diet and nutrition with their patients, especially cancer survivors.

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