WEDNESDAY, Oct. 17, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Older women diagnosed with cancer who stay physically active, maintain a healthy weight and eat a well-balanced diet are much more likely to survive than those who don't, according to a new study.
The University of Minnesota researchers found that of the three factors, getting regular exercise had the most significant effect on the women's cancer survival.
The findings were expected to be presented Wednesday at the annual cancer prevention conference of the American Association for Cancer Research in Anaheim, Calif.
"Elderly female cancer survivors who achieve and maintain an ideal body weight, stay physically active and eat a healthy diet have an almost 40 percent lower risk for death compared with women who do not follow these recommendations," Maki Inoue-Choi, a research associate in the division of epidemiology and community health in the university's School of Public Health, said in an association news release.
In conducting the study, the researchers examined how closely a group of 2,080 women diagnosed with cancer followed the 2007 World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research (WCRF/AICR) guidelines for body weight, physical activity and diet. The women were all from Iowa and were diagnosed between 1986 and 2002.
The women completed a questionnaire in 2004 on a variety of lifestyle factors.
Using data from an Iowa health registry and the National Death Index, researchers found that nearly 500 of the women in the study died between 2004 and 2009. Of these, nearly 200 of the deaths were due to cancer and about 150 were from heart disease.
After taking other risk factors into account, such as the participants' general health, type and stage of cancer, and whether they smoked, death from any cause was 37 percent lower for women who followed the lifestyle guidelines closely than for those who didn't.
Women who met the WCRF/AICR guidelines on physical activity also had a lower risk of death from heart disease or from cancer.
Although the researchers found an association between following the guidelines and increased odds of survival, they did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The American Cancer Society provides healthy living guidelines for cancer survivors.