Diarmuid Duggan, dietitian

Senior dietitian at the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork, Ireland, focusing on medical and surgical oncology and bariatric surgery

Thank you so much to WCRF for their tireless and essential work. It’s on a global scale, but it helps individuals like me support my patients through their cancer journey.

My work involves helping people and their loved ones through their cancer and/or weight management journeys. 

I see people with cancer from all walks of life, who may be really struggling with their diagnosis and can be full of worry about their future. Often they’ve been searching online and coming up with so much conflicting information about what they should or shouldn’t be doing to aid their recovery and reduce future cancer risk, and this uncertainty only adds to their anxiety. 

The best information we have

This is where World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) steps in. WCRF’s Cancer Prevention Recommendations are the best researched information that we have in the world at the moment. They are a very powerful ally to have at my disposal when I'm trying to present the best, evidence-based advice to my patients and their loved ones. It really reassures them when I explain the huge body of work that the WCRF has done on our behalf – such as their most recent, global cancer prevention report, the strength of the evidence and how WCRF’s Recommendations stem from that.

Indeed, one of the reassuring aspects of WCRF’s latest report, and its Cancer Prevention Recommendations, is that it tends to focus on promoting a healthy diet as a whole rather than on individual foods or food parts. This is easier to understand and more easily achievable in the long term.

Facilitating the people I work with and their carers to make informed decisions about their own care can be very empowering. The next stage to my interventions can often be facilitating people to set their own personal goals for behaviour change. They may highlight the need for a change in eating habits, or activity patterns or managing stress. I’m always very mindful of the difficulty in changing our behaviours and that sustaining change can be even harder.

Small, positive changes

I tend to focus on making small changes that are positive. This could mean things like increasing how many plant foods (fruits, vegetables, pulses) people eat, in line with WCRF’s Recommendations, and gradually increasing physical activity that a person will enjoy. When I work with people in this way, I find that resources such as WCRF’s 5 simple steps to a healthier you and 10 ways to protect yourself against cancer booklets are really helpful. They are accessibly written, quite visual, and contain educational and motivational elements. They also contain motivational tools to help sustain increased physical activity, such as an activity diary. Exercise is medicine and this applies for people trying to prevent cancer, for people going through their cancer treatments and for people trying to recover from their cancer.

We usually explore realistic goals that, when achieved, can help build a person’s self-confidence and self-efficacy (a belief that you can succeed). In doing so, WCRF’s Healthy new you planner is often helpful. It really is a one-stop shop, full of evidence-based information to help prevent cancer and other chronic disease in an easy to read and use format. It takes you, step by step, through making positive changes to lifestyle factors like diet and activity, and uses motivational tools like goal setting and journalling that can help you to achieve your desired goals and sustain those changes.

Range of resources

All these positive achievements can lead to substantial and sustainable changes to the behaviour they may be trying to manage, and I’d certainly encourage fellow health professionals and people interested in living healthily to explore WCRF’s range of online resources – educational information, recipes and behavioural change tools.

All of WCRF’s publications and consumer booklets are covered by the Information Standard which is very reassuring. You can order hard copies or download PDF versions for free, which helps us cater for how patients like to receive their information. 

I know WCRF will be continuously developing new tools and helpful cancer prevention interventions, to support people with cancer through their journey and to support survivors in their quest to prevent cancer reoccurring. This is very exciting – in the hospital where I work, we're already using WCRF’s Healthy Living After Cancer booklet on the breast cancer survivorship programmes I’m involved in and on the new Get Active Programme for Men with Prostate or Bowel Cancer being run by a charity I volunteer with, Cork ARC Cancer Support House, in partnership with the Mardyke Arena Health and Leisure Centre in Cork.