Healthy Living After Cancer
Cancer survivor, you may want to know what steps you can take to live healthier after cancer. There is no supplement or specific food you can eat to assure good health, but there are things you can do to live healthier, lower chances of developing other diseases, find new cancers early, and in some cases, lower your risk of cancer coming back (recurrence).
Survivorship Care Plans
A survivorship care plan (SCP) is a great tool to learn about life after cancer. An SCP should have information about health issues (both long-term and late effects) that can be caused by the cancer treatment you had. This information should give ways to lower the risk of these health issues, any tests you should have to watch for the issue, and things to report to your healthcare team. An SCP may also provide resources and information about practical concerns, like fear of recurrence, financial issues, sexual changes, and more.
You can ask your care provider for an SCP or create your own at OncoLife.
Managing Your Healthcare
It is important to have a plan for who will provide your cancer follow-up care (your oncologist, survivorship team, or primary care provider). After cancer treatment, this provider should:
- Review any scans or blood work.
- Watch for signs of your cancer coming back or a new cancer developing.
- Manage any long-term or late side effects of treatment.
It is also important to have a primary care provider who can manage your non-cancer health concerns (like blood pressure, diabetes, etc.) and provide preventive care and screening (for example: checking cholesterol levels, getting a flu shot, and ordering routine screenings). While it is best if these providers know what the other is doing, it doesn’t always happen. Being involved in your own care helps your providers stay connected. You are the captain of your ship!
General Cancer Screening After Cancer
Unfortunately, having one cancer does not mean you cannot get another cancer (either the same type or a different type). In fact, people who have had one cancer are at a higher risk to get another type, compared to someone who has never had cancer. It is important to follow recommendations for cancer screening tests. Learn more about what cancer screening tests are recommended for women and men.
In addition to these screening tests, your healthcare provider may also look for cancers of the skin, mouth, thyroid, and testicles during routine health exams (at any age). Not all screening tests are right for everyone. Your personal and family cancer history, and/or having an inherited genetic mutation, can affect which tests are right for you and at what age you should start having them. Your healthcare provider can help you find out what is best for you.
For some cancer survivors, surviving cancer is the reason to make healthy changes to their lifestyle. These can include things like quitting smoking, eating healthier, and exercising. These changes have been shown to lower the risk of getting new cancer or of certain cancers coming back. They can also help prevent or improve other areas of your health, including high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol levels, and more.
Some tips for living a healthier life:
- Do not use tobacco in any form. If you do, learn more on OncoLink and talk to your healthcare provider about taking steps to quit.
- Keep a healthy weight. Many studies have found that being overweight plays a role in 13 different types of cancer and increases the risk of some cancers coming back.
- Talk to your healthcare team about what a healthy weight is for you and take steps to reach and stay at that weight.
- Two other important parts of a healthy lifestyle are eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
- Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day, 5 days a week. Don’t let that stop you from getting started though! Start with what you can do and build up over time.
- Eat healthy foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables daily. Aim to have 2/3 of your plate filled with vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans, while 1/3 or less should be an animal product. Choose fish and chicken and limit red meat and processed meats.
- Learn more about recommendations for diet, activity, and weight in the AICR's Staying Healthy After Treatment and the ACS's Eat Healthy and Get Active information on their website.
- Learn more about keeping a healthy lifestyle from Macmillan Cancer Support.
- Limit how much alcohol you drink (if you drink at all).
- Have regular check-ups by a healthcare professional.
- Keep up-to-date on general health screening tests, including cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose (blood sugar) levels.
- Get an annual influenza vaccine (flu shot).
- Get vaccinated with the pneumococcal vaccine, which prevents a type of pneumonia. Talk to your healthcare team to see if this vaccine is right for you. Learn more about adult vaccinations from the CDC.
- Get healthy sleep and reduce stress.
- Don’t forget your teeth and eyes!
- The American Dental Association recommends adults see their dentist at least once a year.
- The American Optometric Association recommends adults have their eyes examined every 2 years until age 60, then once a year. People who wear glasses or corrective lenses or are at “high risk” for eye problems (diabetics, family history of eye disease) should be seen more often.
If you have any questions about your care after cancer, talk with your healthcare team about ways to live a healthy life and make a plan for screenings and scans.
American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Life after cancer. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.net/survivorship/life-after-cancer
National Institute of Health: National Cancer Institute. (2018). Facing forward: Life after cancer treatment. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/facing-forward