Healthy Living After Cancer

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 12/2015

Many patients and survivors worry about cancer coming back after treatment. Evidence suggests that making positive lifestyle changes during and after cancer treatment may help prevent a recurrence or second cancer. But many survivors are more likely to develop other chronic health issues, such as:

  • Obesity or being overweight

  • Heart problems, such as congestive heart failure

  • Thinning of the bones and bone breaks

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol levels

  • Diabetes

You can help prevent and manage these health issues by talking with your primary care provider and your oncology team. They will give you suggestions for improving your health and quality of life, such as:

  • Eating healthier foods

  • Finding safe and effective ways to add physical activity to your life

  • Stopping tobacco use

  • Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink

  • Finding positive ways to manage stress

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. Learn more about the effect of diet and nutrition on cancer prevention and recurrence.

Doing physical activity regularly

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

  • Reduce anxiety and fatigue

  • Improve self-esteem

  • Increase feelings of optimism

  • Improve heart health

  • Maintain a healthy weight

  • Boost muscle strength and endurance

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. You can find one through the American College of Sports Medicine.

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.

Get more tips on physical activity, and 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. Get more tips for managing 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. Learn more about obesity, weight, and cancer risk.

  • Quit smoking, and avoid secondhand smoke. Stopping tobacco use, even after a cancer diagnosis, can improve your recovery and overall health. Also avoid secondhand smoke.

  • Protect your skin from the sun. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 every day. Also wear sun-protective clothing and broad-brimmed hats. Be even more cautious if you take medications that may make you more sensitive to the sun. Learn more about protecting your skin from the sun.

  • 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.

More Information

Survivorship

Side Effects

Additional Resources

LIVESTRONG Foundation: Planning for Healthy Living

American Institute for Cancer Research: Diet—What We Eat

American Cancer Society: Nutrition and Physical Activity During and After Cancer Treatment: Answers to Common Questions