August 9, 2021

Empowering cancer patients with lifestyle medicine

Prevent and treat cancer and other chronic diseases by adopting healthy behaviors, such as eating better and exercising more.

Sam Wiley (right) has been cancer-free since his surgery 7 years ago. He credits Aaron Levy, MD, and his advice to switch to a plant-based diet.

Fruit, veggies, exercise — all things you know are good for you, but could they also save your life? Sam Wiley thinks so.

After undergoing successful surgery to remove colon cancer discovered through a routine screening, Wiley told his doctor, Aaron Levy, MD, that he wanted to do everything he could to prevent future cancers.

Dr. Levy, a gastroenterologist with Kaiser Permanente, explained that what we eat plays a powerful role in cancer prevention. He encouraged Wiley to try a plant-based diet — which consists mostly of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, and beans.

Seven years after his surgery, Wiley is now 80 years old and remains cancer-free.

Fighting cancer with lifestyle medicine

Dr. Levy shared how a plant-based diet can help prevent cancer and may stop it from recurring in survivors during Fighting Cancer with Kaiser Permanente, a virtual event intended to help cancer survivors and their loved ones live a healthy life after cancer. His guidance is part of an approach to addressing long-term health conditions called lifestyle medicine, where doctors prescribe changes in daily behaviors to help prevent and treat cancer and other chronic diseases.

Doctors may also prescribe regular physical activity, healthy sleep, positive social connections, and stress management, while recommending that patients avoid cigarettes, alcohol, and recreational drugs.

Kaiser Permanente members with high-risk conditions such as severe obesity, heart disease, and diabetes may be identified as candidates for lifestyle medicine programs, in which they receive comprehensive assessments and recommended lifestyle changes.

“In many cases, these programs are successful in reversing elements of their disease altogether,” said Sunny Dhah, DO, a physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor with Kaiser Permanente, who also spoke at the cancer survivorship event.

We have in each and every one of us the power to change the future. By adjusting our lifestyles, we can prevent as much as 30% to 50% of cancers.

Changes you can make today

Dr. Dhah said that 30 to 60 minutes of exercise 3 times a week, along with resistance training, can reduce your risk of cancer, maximize your recovery from cancer, and enhance your quality of life regardless of where you are in your cancer care journey.

Stress reduction techniques such as yoga and mindfulness meditation are also important tools in the fight against cancer because chronic stress increases inflammation and reduces immunity and your body’s ability to repair its DNA.

High levels of social support and personal connection are also associated with better cancer outcomes. In fact, when it comes to cancer, isolation is as much of a risk as smoking and may even exceed the risk of obesity and physical inactivity.

“We have in each and every one of us the power to change the future,” said Tatjana Kolevska, MD, medical director of Kaiser Permanente’s National Excellence in Cancer Care Program. “By adjusting our lifestyles, we can prevent as much as 30% to 50% of cancers. Let’s take that power and unleash it, so nobody will ever suffer from preventable cancer.”

Learn more about cancer care at Kaiser Permanente.