Top Tips for Cancer Survivors

National Cancer Survivors Day - June 7th 2015

It takes weeks to months to recover from cancer and its treatment, and sometimes even years. Many survivors experience prolonged periods of fatigue, neuropathy, and other physical and psychological issues; they are also must deal with the risk of cancer recurrence, as well as developing new disease caused by their treatment. This is why it is important for cancer survivors to adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Here are 5 tips that we recommend for long-term cancer-free living for cancer survivors:

HEALTHY EATING 

A poor diet may affect cancer progression, risk of recurrence, and overall survival. All cancer treatments, including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy treatments are known to significantly affect nutritional needs and regular eating habits, as well as negatively impact a body’s ability to digest, absorb, and use the food ingested. Studies suggest that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is associated with increased overall survival following cancer diagnosis and treatment.  We strongly recommend a nutritional evaluation as soon as possible after cancer diagnosis to receive the proper guidance regarding your nutritional needs. 

MYTH: It is important to take dietary supplements 

NOT TRUE: Research suggests that up to 32% of cancer survivors use dietary supplements for a variety of reasons, including to treat a symptom, feel better, or for general assurance that they have an adequate nutrient intake. But the truth is that supplements are unnecessary if you eat a healthy and balanced diet. Supplements should be considered only if a nutrient deficiency is identified. Some supplements can also interact with your cancer treatments, and are thus contraindicated. Recommendations about supplement use should be guided by the assessments of health care professionals, including a certified nutritionist.

 

EXERCISE 

It is estimated that only 20 to 30% of cancer survivors engage in regular physical activity upon treatment completion.  We need to change this. A program of regular physical activity is essential to facilitate the process of cancer recovery and improve fitness after treatments are completed. Evidence shows that routine exercise improves cardiovascular health, fatigue, depression, self-esteem, as well as overall sense of well-being in cancer survivors. It is recommended that cancer survivors engage in at least 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity. It is worthwhile getting an expert evaluation with a physiotherapist as soon as possible after cancer diagnosis.  

MYTH: Exercise is unsafe during cancer treatment.  

NOT TRUE: Current evidence strongly suggests that exercise is not only safe during cancer treatment, but that it can also improve physical functioning, fatigue, and numerous aspects related to overall quality of life. An adapted physical activity regimen tailored to your needs is essential.

 

ATTEND YOUR HEALTH APPOINTMENTS 

Individuals with a cancer history are at significantly greater risk of developing a second cancer, and may also have an increased risk of chronic conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. It is more important than ever for cancer survivors to attend their health check-ups.

 

USE ALCOHOL IN MODERATION AND QUIT SMOKING 

Strong evidence supports the relationship between alcohol intake and risk of developing a primary cancer, including cancers of the mouth, the larynx, the esophagus, liver, and breast, and colon cancers. In cancer survivors, alcohol intake may increase the risk of a new primary cancer. There is also wide evidence that continued alcohol consumption leads to lower survival rates. Use alcohol in moderation, your life depends on it! 

Approximately 1 in 10 cancer survivors continue to smoke. The bottom line is that quitting smoking increases your chances of living longer. Quitting smoking also reduces serious side effects, such as infection or complications from all types of cancer treatment, as well reduces the risk of a second cancer. There are NO benefits to smoking! A primary care provider such as your family doctor can assist you in your goal to have a smoke-free life: seek their help.

 

GET HELP, SEEK SUPPORT 

There are currently close to 1 million cancer survivors living in Canada - you are not alone! All cancer survivors need some form of support. Evidence shows attending group activities such as cooking or exercise classes, as well as support groups, can improve your sense of well-being and your quality of life. The journey of a cancer survivor isn’t meant to be a solitary one. Ask your health care provider about available resources in your area: not only for you, but for your loved ones too!