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Healthy Living for Cancer Survivors

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Diet After Cancer Treatment

Healthy Living for Cancer Survivors

Dr. Peush Bajpai
Senior Consultant – Medical Oncology
Cancer Care / Oncology, Medical Oncology

Eating a healthy diet

Cancer survivors can build back strength after treatment by eating a diet filled with fresh fruits and vegetables and other unprocessed, low-fat foods. Healthy eating can also reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. Experts recommend eating plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; lean protein; and low-fat dairy products. They also say to avoid highly processed foods and red meats as much as possible.

Nutrition and Physical activity regularly

During cancer treatment, surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy can affect your body’s need for nutrients. These treatments can also affect your eating habits and how your body digests, absorbs and uses food. Your main nutrition goals during cancer are:

  • To make certain your body’s nutrient and calorie needs are met
  • To maintain a healthy weight
  • To avoid losing muscle mass
  • To assure that any nutrition –related side effects, such as decreased appetite, mouth sores, difficulty swallowing etc. are being prevented or managed as best they can
  • To improve the quality of your life as you go through treatment.

Exercise is an important part of healthy living. Being physically active during and after cancer treatment helps:

  • Improve your physical abilities
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Reduce anxiety, depression and fatigue
  • Improve balance and lower risk of falls and broken bones.
  • Keep muscles from wasting due to inactivity
  • Lessen the risk of osteoporosis (weak bones that are more likely to break)
  • Improve heart health
  • Improve blood flow to legs, and lower risk of blood clots.
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Make you less dependent on others to do normal activities of daily living.
  • Boost muscle strength and endurance
  • Improves your quality of life.

The goal should be to be active as much as possible. Some doctors may suggest that you wait to see what side effects you have with chemotherapy before starting physical activity. If you did not exercise before diagnosis, you might start with stretching and brief, slow walks and progress slowly.

When you are too tired to exercise- Most people with cancer notice that they have less energy making them feel fatigued and exhausted. During chemotherapy and radiation, about 70% of patients have fatigue. An aerobic training program can help break this cycle. Regular exercise has been linked to reduce fatigue. An aerobic exercise program can be prescribed as treatment for cancer related fatigue.

Tips to reduce Fatigue

  • Set up a daily routine that allows activity when you are feeling your best.
  • Exercise regularly at light to moderate intensity.
  • Eat a balanced diet that includes protein and drink about 8 to 10 glasses of water a day.
  • Keep your symptoms controlled like pain, nausea or depression.
  • Enjoy your hobbies and other activities that give you pleasure
  • Use relaxation and visualisation techniques to reduce stress.

Side effects from cancer and cancer treatment, such as fatigue or sleep problems, can keep you from being active. It may help to talk with a certified health and fitness professional.

Here are some more tips to help you start exercising:

  • If you have been inactive for a long time, start with 10 minutes of walking a day and build up.
  • Add exercise to your everyday activities and chores by walking to the store, taking the stairs, or parking farther away from an entrance.
  • Exercise while doing other activities, such as watching television or listening to music.
  • Find an exercise partner or group that provides friendly support.
  • If you are coping with fatigue, exercise when you have the most energy.

Remember to talk with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

Other healthy lifestyle tips

You can do several things to create and maintain a healthier life after cancer, such as:

  • Stay in touch with your health care team. Your doctor and other health care professionals can recommend and schedule follow-up care appointments to look for signs of recurrence and/or manage long-term side effects. They may help you fill out a cancer treatment plan and summary or a survivorship care plan.
  • Learn how to cope with difficult feelings. Feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression and fear of recurrence can slow a person's recovery. They can also bring about new physical problems, such as sleeplessness, headaches, and stomach issues. Journaling, joining a support group, and practicing relaxation techniques may help you better cope with your emotions.
  • Reach and maintain a healthy weight. Losing weight and keeping it off has been shown to help breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer survivors, and possibly others, live longer, healthier lives. Healthy ways to control weight includes:
  • Limit high-calorie foods.
  • Drink fewer beverages high in fat and/or added sugar
  • Eat more low-calorie foods like vegetables and fruit.
  • Add more physical activity throughout the day.
  • Quit smoking, and avoid second hand smoke. Stopping tobacco use, even after a cancer diagnosis, can improve your recovery and overall health. Also avoid second hand smoke.
  • Make time for fun. Get together with friends, watch a movie, walk the dog, or play with your kids. Laughter can reduce stress and improve your mood.
  •  Be active. Avoid being inactive and return to normal daily activities as soon as possible. Exercise at least 150 minutes per week. Include strength training exercises at least two days per week.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods from plant sources.  Limit the amount of processed meat and red meat you eat. Eat 2 ½ cups or more of vegetables and fruits each day. Choose whole grains rather than refined grain products.

Does Alcohol increase the risk of cancer recurrence (coming back)?

Studies have found a link between alcohol intake and the risk of developing a number of cancers, such as cancer of the:

  • Mouth
  • Throat
  • Larynx (voice box)
  • Esophagus (tube that connects the throat to the stomach)
  • Liver
  • Breast

Should I avoid alcohol during cancer treatment?

The cancer type and stage (extent) as well as the type of treatment should be taken into account when deciding whether to drink alcohol during treatment. Many of the drugs used to treat cancer are broken down by the liver, and alcohol, by causing liver inflammation could impair drug breakdown, increasing side effects. It’s good idea to drink only a little, if any, alcohol during treatment to prevent interactions with the drugs used to treat cancer.

For people with cancers of the head and neck, alcohol, even in the small amounts used in mouthwashes, can irritate the oral cavity and make mouth sores feel even worse. If you have mouth sores, you may be advised to avoid or limit alcohol. It may also be best to avoid or limit alcohol if you are starting cancer treatment that will put you at risk for mouth sores, such as radiation therapy to the head and neck or certain types of chemotherapy.

What do antioxidants have to do with cancer?

Antioxidants include Vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids (compounds that give vegetables and fruits their colors), and many phytochemicals (plant based chemicals). They help prevent cell damage caused by chemical reactions with oxygen. Because this damage may play a role in cancer development, it has long been thought that antioxidants may help prevent cancer.

Role of Turmeric (Haldi) in Cancer Treatment

Turmeric’s active ingredient is an extracted compound called curcumin. Studies have shown that curcumin helps prevent several forms of cancer including breast, lung, stomach, liver, and colon because of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It stops the development of cancer by interfering with the cellular signaling aspects of the chronic disease.

Key Points

  1. Be physically active during and after cancer treatment.
  2. Reach and maintain a healthy weight.
  3. Quit smoking, and avoid second hand smoke. 
  4. Eat a variety of healthy foods from plant sources. 
  5. Limit the amount of processed meat and red meat you eat.
  6. Avoid alcohol during cancer treatment.