It is estimated that in Australia there are currently over one million people living with and beyond cancer, and cancer survival rates continue to increase. Although cancer survivors often have a strong desire to make healthy lifestyle changes, many struggle to do so without advice and support. The Healthy Living after Cancer program is designed to fill this need.
Cancer survivors experience an increased risk of cancer recurrence, development of new cancers and persistent side-effects of treatment such as fatigue and chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. To improve longer-term wellbeing, national cancer organisations recommend that cancer survivors engage in regular physical activity, eat a healthy diet and keep their weight within a healthy range. Although there is evidence to suggest that programs targeting these behaviours (including those delivered by telephone) are effective, they are rarely offered as part of routine survivorship care. Cancer Council’s Healthy Living after Cancer program aims to evaluate the integration of an evidence-based lifestyle intervention for cancer survivors into the existing Cancer Council 13 11 20 Information and Support Service.
The Healthy Living after Cancer program is available to people treated for any type of cancer and who have completed their treatment, with no limit on time since diagnosis.
Participants receive six months of healthy lifestyle coaching, including a program workbook and up to 12 coaching calls, delivered by a nurse or health consultant. They are encouraged to set goals to increase their physical activity, eat a healthy diet, and lose a moderate amount of weight, if appropriate.
Participants complete a health assessment over the phone at the beginning of the program, after they complete their coaching calls, and again six months later. They also have the opportunity to receive a further six months of supportive text messages after they have finished their coaching, to help maintain the improvements they have made.
Collaboration between university researchers and Cancer Councils provides an important opportunity for national dissemination of an evidence-based program to support healthy living among cancer survivors. Evaluation of the Healthy Living after Cancer program has already begun to show meaningful improvements in the lifestyles of participants. To date, 173 participants have completed the program and achieved significant improvements in BMI, physical activity, diet, quality of life, cancer and treatment-related symptoms and side effects, and fear of cancer recurrence. Participants have also reported a high level of satisfaction with the program.
This evidence will inform advocacy for sustained program funding, with the ultimate goal to integrate Healthy Living after Cancer referrals into routine cancer care to improve the health and wellbeing of cancer survivors throughout Australia.
Professor Elizabeth Eakin University of Queensland
Kathy Chapman Liz Hing Indhu Subramanian Jerome Krish Hannah Baird And representatives from Cancer Council VIC, SA and WA, and a team of national and international investigators*