The Center for Cancer Lifestyle Management
Using the Body’s Healing Capacity to Improve Cancer Outcomes
Over the last 40 years, research has documented how lifestyle changes can make the body less hospitable to cancer cell growth by reducing inflammation, strengthening the immune system, and lowering insulin resistance, among other means. To this end, The Center for Cancer Lifestyle Management opened its virtual doors in 2020 with the mission of “using lifestyle management to support better cancer outcomes.”
“There is science documenting how social connection, emotional well-being, stress management, plant-driven nutrition, physical activity and positive cognition can contribute to turning on or off the cellular and epigenetic changes that underwrite cancer progression,” says Cindy Ness, Ph.D., executive director of CCLM. “To my mind, this makes these factors critical and necessary components of contemporary—not alternative or complementary—cancer care.”
These “gateways” can maximize the effectiveness of whatever medical treatment a cancer patient chooses to pursue, she says.
“CCLM partners with patients to design a personalized lifestyle-management plan addressing the specific needs of their individual biology and diagnosis,” she says. “We’re committed to educating patients about how lifestyle changes can impact every cell in their body.”
The center offers stress-management, nutrition and movement classes, social and emotional support services, and cancer-education workshops to support patients in their recovery. It also offers four- and eight-week intensive programs.
Expanding Best Practice Models
A big focus of the practice is taking the confusion out of conflicting claims about lifestyle health by staying close to the research, Ness says. CCLM also wants to generate conversations around what constitutes best practices in cancer care.
“If a meta-analysis of 19 studies documents that low heartrate variability is associated with tumor progression in a wide range of cancers, or an article in the journal Cancer documents that breast cancer patients who feel socially connected are 24 percent less likely to have a recurrence compared to a control group who don’t, why don’t we tell patients this when we formulate their treatment plans?” she asks.
She says it’s important to start now, given that nearly half the people in the United States will hear the phrase “You have cancer” during the course of their lifetimes.
Building a Supportive Community
Since CCLM opened, Ness says, she and her staff have experienced “an outpouring of excitement” from everyone they’ve talked to about the center’s mission—a big part of which is to build a community for their patients.
“We realize that a cancer diagnosis can make a person feel like their world has been turned upside down,” she says. “So we’re committed to working with patients in small groups so they can get to know others who are going through some of the same things. Many of our staff have had a cancer diagnosis themselves, or have been a primary caregiver for a family member who has.”
Ness, a double-doctorate psychologist and an anthropologist by training, was introduced to the world of cancer through her own diagnosis.
“After surgery and radiation, I was essentially left to my own devices, waiting from scan to scan to see if my cancer had returned,” she says. “I knew intuitively that this was a poor use of time, so I put together my own lifestyle regimen with the goal of lessening the likelihood of a recurrence.”
Immersed in a sea of competing and conflicting health claims, with no real guidance, Ness hit the books, amassed a team of “amazing minds and caring souls,” and began envisioning the program she wished she could have found for herself under one roof. That would become the Center for Cancer Lifestyle Management.