Can a healthier lifestyle reduce chronic fatigue after colorectal cancer? This is the central question in a project by Wageningen University & Research aimed at finding ways to better support former cancer patients.
Colorectal cancer is among the top five most prevalent types of cancer in the Netherlands. Almost one in three former patients suffer from fatigue, which has a major impact on quality of life. Some people, for instance, are no longer able to work. Previous research has shown that most people with cancer do not succeed in adapting to a healthier lifestyle after cancer. Nevertheless, patients who exercise more and eat healthier after colorectal cancer experience a better quality of life than those who do not.
Fatigue after colorectal cancer
The 'Healthier lifestyle and fatigue after colorectal cancer' project aims to determine whether a causal link exists between the two and, if so, discover the underlying mechanisms. In addition, the study should provide insight into the effectiveness of the latest techniques for lifestyle change and provide tips on how to better support cancer survivors. Although cancer survivors have expressed a clear need for more support, these patients currently receive little or no information on lifestyle and nutrition.
A multidisciplinary team of nutrition scientists and behavioural scientists of Wageningen University & Research is starting an intervention study with 160 colorectal cancer patients who have been cancer-free for a year but still suffer from fatigue.
Half of the participants will be assigned to a personal coach for a period of six months who will help them achieve a healthier lifestyle, in accordance with the recommendations of the World Cancer Research Fund: plenty of vegetables and wholegrains, limited amounts of red or processed meat, preferably no alcohol and half an hour of moderately intensive exercise a day. The other half, the control group, will receive personal support after the intervention period. The participants will regularly fill out questionnaires about their fatigue levels.
Fat infiltration in muscle
CT scans and echography will provide insight into any changes among participants in muscle mass, fat percentage and level of fat infiltration in muscle – a process in which more and more fat is deposited between and in the muscle fibres. Previous studies by Wageningen University & Research and others have shown a possible link between fatigue and muscle fattening.
In addition to Wageningen University & Research, the other project partners are the Nutrition & Healthcare Alliance, Flevoziekenhuis Almere hospital and The Netherlands Comprehensive Cancer Organisation (IKNL). World Cancer Research Fund International and its Dutch foundation WKOF are funding the project.
The recruitment of participants for the six-month intervention study will start in early 2021. In total, the project, through which two PhD students hope to obtain their PhD degree, will run for four years.