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By Carol Cannon, RN, BSN, OCN®

A lot has been publicized about initiating a conversation with patients about smoking cessation. We’ve all been taught that the single best thing someone can do for their health is to quit tobacco use.

However, I learned some surprising information at the 2013 wibit inflatable water park ONS Congress. Stephen Hursting, PhD, MPH, shared his research from the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, explaining that obesity is actually a bigger contributor to cancer than tobacco. It caused me to ask myself, when was the last time I counseled a patient to lose weight? Today, I still struggle with this concept.

I currently work in the acute care setting. The patients who come in for a bone marrow transplant will likely lose weight in the process of transplant, but that’s not an acceptable excuse. Some people need counseling to maintain a healthy weight post-transplant. Many newly diagnosed leukemics need massive weight loss to improve their overall health. While I am quick to reward weight loss efforts, I typically do not initiate the conversation or emphasize the importance of continuing diet modifications and physical activity. In fact, I have been the nurse who buys French fries for the patient who is “just craving them.”

Sometimes it is easy to take on the mentality, these people have cancer. They deserve to eat what they want. Particularly when nausea and vomiting are common, it’s easy to ask them to try and get down anything they can. You only live once, right? But perhaps I am only doing a disservice to my patients by avoiding this ongoing discussion. Obesity is not only a major risk factor for cancer, but it also contributes to a poorer prognosis and an increased risk for recurrence.

On Thursday afternoon of the ONS 40th Annual Congress, Adrienne Wald, EdD, MBA, RN, MCHES, will discuss the latest evidence about this challenging topic in a session titled Obesity and Cancer.” She will also cover nursing interventions and educational guidelines that are imperative to ensure the best possible outcomes for your patients with cancer. I will be there with my pen and notepad in hand!

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