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Healthy lifestyle may lower risk of heart disease in childhood cancer survivors

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Childhood survivors of cancer can lower their risk of cardiovascular disease later in life by following a heart-healthy lifestyle, suggests a new study. Published in the July 28 online journal Cancer, the study was conducted by researchers at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

There are over 360,000 childhood cancer survivors in the United States. Previous studies from St. Jude’s have shown that many survivors face chronic health problems later in life, including cardiovascular disease. Children whose treatment included chest or head irradiation or chemotherapy with anthracylcine are known to be at increased risk for metabolic syndrome – a group of conditions that increases the likelihood of developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

To determine if lifestyle factors of childhood cancer survivors had any effect of their risk of developing metabolic syndrome, the researchers examined 1,598 childhood cancer survivors who had been free of the illness for 10 years or more, and who were part of the St. Jude’s Lifetime Cohort Study. Participants in the study had various types of cancers and returned to St. Jude’s for several days of health screenings and tests. In addition, they answered questionnaires to determine if they followed healthy lifestyle recommendations.

Study researchers found that 73 percent of adult survivors of childhood cancer more than doubled their risk of developing metabolic syndrome by failing to follow a healthy lifestyle that included a healthy diet and regular exercise. Nearly 32 percent of the study group were diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. Of those who followed a healthy lifestyle, 27 percent had the condition.

“These findings are important because they indicate that adults who were treated for cancer as children have the opportunity to influence their own health outcomes,” study co-author Kristen Ness, PhD, an associate member of the St. Jude Department of Epidemiology and Cancer Control, said in a journal news release.

Ness advised childhood survivors of cancer to adopt a lifestyle that includes maintaining a healthy body weight, regular physical activity, and a diet that includes fruits and vegetables. She also said that limiting refined sugars, excessive alcohol, red meat, and salt has the potential to prevent the development of metabolic syndrome. Finally, she cautioned cancer survivors not to smoke.

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