Skip to Content


Aging Survivors Can Learn New 'Tricks'

Annual Report - Winter 2010

By Katrina Burton

It’s no secret that elderly cancer survivors often face a decline after diagnosis. However, that decline sometimes can be avoided or minimized if they embrace a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, Ph.D.

Helping these people engage in new lifestyle practices that can enable them to live longer, more functional lives has been the goal of RENEW (Reach-out to ENhancE Wellness).

The largest randomized controlled trial of its kind and funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), RENEW provided a home-based diet and exercise intervention for 641 elderly, overweight survivors of colorectal, breast and prostate cancers. Of the trial participants, 45% were survivors of breast cancer, 41% of prostate cancer and 14% of colorectal cancer. This international study enrolled participants in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada.

“We were pleased that the study showed significant improvements in physical activity, dietary behaviors and overall quality of life,” says Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Behavioral Science and principal investigator on the study. “Most important, it slowed the rate of physical function decline among these long-term survivors.”

The success of the trial in elderly cancer survivors underscores the need for home-based interventions designed to increase the survival rate for all cancer survivors.

"Health care providers need to be creative and diligent in offering programs that survivors will actually incorporate into their daily lives."

Survivors are at greater risk for second malignancies, other diseases and an accelerated rate of functional decline, Demark-Wahnefried says. The older the patient is, the harder the journey to recovery.

“Without proper intervention, elderly cancer survivors can find themselves dependent on others and may be unable to live independently,” Demark-Wahnefried says.

“Many people are surviving cancer, which is a victory. However, they often need interventions since they represent such a high-risk group. Health care providers need to be creative and diligent in offering programs that survivors will actually incorporate into their daily lives.”

Reinforcing dietary guidelines that point survivors to healthful food choices, tips on how to fit exercise into their daily activities and connecting them to community resources are just a few ways health care providers can help survivors live longer, healthier lives.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center