About the course
The Anticancer Lifestyle Program is a free online evidenced-based lifestyle transformation course that offers cancer survivors and those of us interested in prevention the tools and information we need to reduce the odds of cancer and cancer recurrence. It can also help prevent or manage other chronic illnesses, like heart disease and type II diabetes.
The program started as an in-person course at Concord Hospital in New Hampshire in 2011. After seeing the profound impact it had on patients, Meg Hirshberg, a 3-time breast cancer survivor treated at Concord Hospital, was inspired to reach as many people as possible with this information and created the Anticancer Lifestyle Foundation. In response to numerous requests for information from survivors around the world, they developed an online course based on Dr. David Servan-Schreiber’s book Anticancer: A New Way of Life.
The lifestyle modifications presented in this course are not intended to replace conventional therapies but rather to complement them. The goal is to enable the body to take full advantage of its own ability to heal by creating a “Healthy Internal Terrain,” defined by Dr. Servan-Schreiber as low inflammation and a strengthened immune system that can attack disease better. Although every person is different and we cannot guarantee that someone in particular will not get cancer, adopting the behaviors promoted in this course have been shown to help reduce cancer incidence.
The program consists of five modules: Change, Mindset, Diet, Fitness, and Environment. In addition, each module comes with its own companion guide that can be used to continue developing an Anticancer Lifestyle.
When I was thirteen years old, I lived with my grandfather who was diagnosed with bladder cancer. While my memories of his treatment aren't very vivid, his optimism and the lifestyle changes that took place in my home stuck with me and led me to understand that there are things we can do to reduce our risk of getting cancer. The advice offered by his healthcare team was solely about diet and being active, and everyone in my house practiced them. From this experience, I can see the potential of the Anticancer Lifestyle course to change lives.
I started the Anticancer Lifestyle Program in September 2022. In what follows, I will describe what you can expect from each module and the changes I implemented. You can take all or just some of the modules, but I found the suggested order to be very useful.
Module 1: Change
The first module Change was the most helpful to me. In my house, it is usually me who decides what to eat and what to buy. Despite being familiar with an anti-cancer lifestyle, in the past years I’ve been making these decisions thinking about my family’s likes and dislikes. Changing things that would affect my family was daunting, even though I knew they were good things. For example, I was concerned that my husband might not be on board and that we would have to cook two meals. It was easy to persuade my husband of these changes by telling him that we must set a good example and take care of our daughter's health. This module helped me define the changes I would like to make, identify the barriers to those changes, and know how to overcome those barriers. This module recommends using the SMART goal-setting framework throughout the program, to help you to set up goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
Module 2: Mindset
The second module, Mindset, was very educational and it prepares you for the changes that you want to implement. I knew that taking this program would give me ideas for my household, but knowing that I wouldn’t be able to change everything overnight was stressful to me. The Mindset module does a terrific job explaining what stress is and how to manage it. As the scientific community continues to study the relationship between chronic stress with tumor growth and spread, I found the advice and tools provided in this module very useful. As a visual learner, I also appreciated the animations and images throughout this module. The companion guide and additional resources for this module are also excellent, providing lots of guided practices and activities to help you cope with stress.
Module 3: Diet
The third module Diet helps you identify the best foods to nourish the body and which ones to cut back. It also focuses on the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight. It was interesting to learn that even though body weight is one of the most important factors to address when preventing the risk of cancer and other diseases, most U.S. physicians are not trained in nutrition, and less than one-third of medical schools in the U.S. offer the recommended 25 hours of nutrition education to medical students. (While this module focused on nutrition, body size is also impacted by factors other than diet, including chemicals in the environment.)
This module covers many aspects of nutrition, it teaches you how to calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI), what to look for on a nutrition label, advice about portion sizes (I found this one very useful), and a grocery shopping guide.
I approached this module by making gradual changes and involving everyone in my house. I have a one-year-old daughter and oftentimes I don’t have the energy or time to cook meals, so it was important to have everyone on board. That the program motivated me to make better decisions regarding my own and my family’s diet and my daughter began to eat solid foods were good reasons to start.
The program offers 14 food rules and my family and I started out by agreeing to follow the five that are bold:
- Aim for a healthy weight
- Eat REAL food
- Eat mostly plants, especially vegetables
- Get on the whole grain train
- Eat organic foods whenever possible
- Treat meat as a condiment
- Eat safer seafood
- Not all milk & eggs are created equal
- Change your oil
- Keep sweets down to fruits
- Spice it up!
- Sit and have a cup of tea...or three
- Be a locavore
- Plant more than flowers
It was fairly easy to implement these changes and we all enjoyed the meals. As a result, even though we were not focusing on counting calories or following rigid portion sizes, both of us have lost weight: my husband has lost 9 pounds and I’ve lost 7 pounds. Additionally, my milk supply (I breastfeed and pump) seems to have increased after implementing these changes.
Module 4: Fitness
Fitness is the fourth module of the program. It offers compelling information about the value of fitness and its important, research-proven role in lowering the risk of cancer. It explains the value of practicing different types of exercises (cardiovascular, strength training, flexibility, and balance) and how to incorporate them into daily activities. The module also includes a segment on the importance of sleep, with good advice on how to increase its quality and quantity.
This is definitely the module I mentally struggled with the most. It is not that I dislike being active, I simply “thought” I had no time to do so. After completing the companion guide for this module, I realized I didn't need to join a gym to be more active. I was encouraged to see that I was already doing some of the suggested activities, I was just not counting them as “being active."
My goal was to be more active, so I enabled the step counter on my phone. By doing daily activities, I was already reaching 6,000 steps. I decided to aim for 10,000 steps for at least three days a week. I did so by extending my daughter’s stroller walk. During my walk with my dog, I decided to walk faster and run for the last five minutes. Following the course advice, I also walked for at least two minutes after eating and stretched at least once a day.
Module 5: Environment
The last module is called Environment. It presents ways you can reduce your exposures to toxic chemicals and introduces you to safer alternatives to common consumer products. This module can be overwhelming because creating an anticancer environment will take time, but there are easy-to-use tools that can help us find safe, accessible, and affordable alternatives. It was exciting to see that the module’s recommendations align with Zero Breast Cancer’s Generations campaign.
I had already applied a lot of the cleaning recommendations presented in this course while I was pregnant and entered the nesting stage. At the time, I wasn't aware that apps like Think Dirty or the web browser extension Clearya could tell you how safe a product's ingredients are. This would have been helpful, but thankfully when I used the apps, I found I only had to replace a high chair and toy cleaner product that was advertised as all-natural but wasn't all that safe.
While I anticipated this would be an interesting course with helpful advice, I never imagined it would be so comprehensive, enjoyable, and easy to follow. If you are looking for evidence-based information and tools to improve your health and wellness, I highly encourage you to take the course!
The Anticancer Lifestyle Program website is also a wonderful resource, where you can find additional information for each of the modules, ebooks, recipes, exercise routines, meditation practices, and more. They also offer webinars where you get the chance to ask the experts questions. Although the course is currently only available in English, some of their ebooks are available in Spanish.
Written by Laura Custodio, ZBC Bilingual Program Coordinator