A healthy lifestyle after ovarian cancer diagnosis may help women improve their prognosis

A recent study found a healthy lifestyle after ovarian cancer diagnosis, in particular not smoking and being physically active, may help women improve their prognosis.

I was part of the Ovarian cancer Prognosis And Lifestyle (OPAL) study. The OPAL study was conducted in Australian women recently diagnosed with invasive epithelial ovarian cancer. The study aimed to assess survival in these patients in association with a healthy lifestyle both before and after diagnosis.

The researchers calculated a healthy lifestyle index based on women's self‐reported smoking status, height, weight, physical activity, diet and alcohol intake in 678 women prior to ovarian cancer diagnosis and in 512 women following treatment. Clinical data was collected from medical records.

Both former and current smoking before and after diagnosis were significantly associated with reduced survival. Although, the study found almost half of the women who were current smokers before diagnosis reported having stopped smoking by 12 months after diagnoses.

Women Exercising

Higher physical activity after diagnosis was associated with better survival. Yet, women in the study generally reported lower levels of physical activity after diagnosis.

There was no association between diet, BMI and prognosis. Over 30% of women reported a healthier diet prior to diagnosis whereas approximately 20% reported a less healthy diet after diagnosis. Alcohol intake was low in this study, and there was no suggestion that women with higher alcohol intake had worse survival.

Based on these findings, women with ovarian cancer may achieve an improved prognosis by quitting smoking and being physically active. Advice to quit smoking in gynaecological patients is already common practice; and physical activity has a plethora of health benefits. Physical exercise would be on the top of my list of things that I would do if diagnosed with cancer. There is a clear trend in the literature that women who are physically fit will do better if they develop cancer.  Participating in exercise during chemotherapy has also been shown to reduce the number and severity of physical and psychosocial treatment-related side effects and improve a patient's quality of life. Our research team is further investigating this in The ECHO trial, at the Queensland Centre of Gynaecological Research.

Read some tips on exercising at home.

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