Healthy Living After Cancer
Survivors often wonder what steps they 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, prevent other diseases, detect any subsequent cancers early, and in some cases, reduce the risk of your cancer coming back.
Survivorship Care Plans
A survivorship care plan (SCP) can be a great tool to learn about life after cancer. An SCP should include information about health issues (called late effects) that can be caused by the cancer treatment you had. This information should give ways you can reduce the risk of these issues, any tests you should have to monitor for the issue, and things to report to your healthcare team. An SCP may also provide resources and information about practical concerns as well, including 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 (an oncologist, survivorship doctor, or primary care doctor). This care can include exams, reviewing any scans or blood work that is recommended after treatment, monitoring for the possibility of cancer returning, and any late side effects of treatment.
It is also important to have a primary care provider who can manage other health concerns (for example blood pressure, diabetes, etc.) and provide preventive care and screening (for example: checking cholesterol levels, getting a flu shot, ordering a mammogram). While it is ideal for these providers to know what the other is doing, it doesn’t always happen. Being involved in your care helps to be sure you don’t miss things that are important for keeping you healthy. 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 different). In fact, people who have had one cancer are at a higher risk to get another cancer, compared to someone who has never had cancer. For these reasons, 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 determine what is best for you.
For some cancer survivors, the experience of having had 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 reduce the risk of getting new cancer or of certain cancers coming back (called recurrence). They can also help prevent or improve other areas of your health, including high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol levels, and more.
Some tips for adopting a healthier lifestyle:
- 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.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Many studies have found that excess weight plays an important role in the development of 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 add on over time.
- Eat healthy, including plenty of fruits and vegetables daily. Aim to have 2/3 of your plate be 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 maintaining 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.
- Don’t forget your teeth and eyes!
- The American Optometric Association recommends adults have their eyes examined every 2 years until age 60, then annually. People who wear glasses or corrective lenses or are at “high risk” for eye problems (i.e. diabetics, family history of eye disease) should be seen more frequently.
- The American Dental Association recommends adults see their dentist at least once a year.