Researchers from Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions have conducted a study to investigate the barriers to and strategies for encouraging healthy eating habits among young female cancer survivors who are facing fertility challenges. This study, recently published in Integrative Cancer Therapies, aimed to collect information about their dietary intake and inform the development of dietary interventions tailored to this population.

In this study, in-depth interviews were conducted with young female cancer survivors who were experiencing fertility issues. Additionally, 20 female cancer survivors of reproductive age provided three 24-hour dietary recalls to assess the quality of their diets based on the Healthy Eating Index (2015) and adherence to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Some participants also participated in focus group discussions to ensure the accuracy of their perspectives.

“Clearly, barriers exist for these young women who are unable to meet healthy dietary recommendations. Yet, to date, no study has investigated nutrition-related barriers to female cancer survivors experiencing fertility challenges,” stated Brandy-Joe Milliron, PhD, an associate professor in the College and corresponding author of the study

Overall, the findings revealed that the women in the study had poor-quality diets, and four main barriers to adopting a healthy diet emerged from the data:

  1. Challenges of Work-Life Balance: Many participants struggled to balance work and personal life, making it difficult to prioritize healthy eating.
  2. Treatment-Related Fatigue: Cancer treatment often leads to fatigue, which can hinder the ability to prepare and consume nutritious meals.
  3. Rigid Dietary Guidance: Participants found that the dietary guidance provided was too inflexible for them to follow, suggesting a need for more adaptable recommendations.
  4. Lack of Nutrition Resources: There was a dearth of nutrition resources tailored to the unique needs of cancer survivors during treatment and post-treatment.

Despite these barriers, the research team identified several facilitators of healthy eating, particularly among those with higher-quality diets:

  1. Trust Between Patients and Healthcare Providers: Building trust between patients and their healthcare providers was crucial in promoting better nutrition habits.
  2. High Motivation to Improve Nutrition: Some participants exhibited a strong motivation to enhance their nutrition-related behaviors.
  3. Recognition of Additional Benefits: Participants recognized the broader benefits of nutrition and a healthy diet beyond fertility, which served as a motivator.

The researchers emphasized that the findings may not be applicable to all cancer survivors and recommended further research to explore the unique nutrition and wellness needs of young female cancer survivors across various backgrounds, cancer types, and treatments.

In light of their findings, the researchers recommended the following strategies for nutrition programs and interventions aimed at female cancer survivors:

  • Use Evidence-Based Strategies: Incorporate evidence-based techniques such as motivational interviewing, self-monitoring, and social support into nutrition programs.
  • Customized Interventions: Tailor interventions to accommodate women’s work schedules to improve adherence to dietary recommendations.
  • Culinary Education Resources: Provide resources for culinary education to boost survivors’ confidence in cooking and help them manage motivation and fatigue effectively.

This study sheds light on the dietary challenges faced by young female cancer survivors dealing with fertility issues and offers valuable insights into how healthcare providers and nutrition programs can better support their unique needs and promote healthier eating habits.

“Nutrition interventions that seek to strengthen fertility treatment can be optimized by considering and addressing barriers and facilitators during the development stage,” stated Milliron. 


The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a health advice. We would ask you to consult a qualified professional or medical expert to gain additional knowledge before you choose to consume any product or perform any exercise.

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