Once you’ve had cancer and completed active treatment, you may be wondering what you can do to reduce your chances of ever having to go through this again. Everyone’s experience is different, as is your risk of recurrence. But you can take steps to help lower your risk of developing cancer again. Talk to your doctor about these five tips for after cancer treatment care.
1. Develop a Survivorship Care Plan
The end of active cancer treatment can bring about a mix of feelings, from relief to nervousness to abandonment. Before you part ways with your care team, get a survivorship care plan, such as this one by Journey Forward. If you care center doesn’t offer their own, go online to download a template. Your plan should summarize your treatment and diagnosis and offer guidelines for screenings, follow-up appointments and positive lifestyle habits.
2. Attend All Screenings and Follow-Up Appointments
How many appointments you have and what screenings you need are highly personalized based on your disease. You may need blood work every few months, or you may simply need to check in once a year. Whatever your doctor recommends, stick to the schedule. Detecting any cancer or late effects of treatment early gives you the best chance to treat those problems.
3. Eat Healthy
A poor diet not only increases your risk of developing a second cancer, it also raises your risk of other health problems, like heart disease and diabetes. The American Cancer Society recommends that you stick to the same nutrition guidelines designed to prevent cancer even after you’ve had cancer. In general, this means sticking to a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in red or processed meats. Limit saturated fats and sugar, and opt for low-fat dairy and whole grains.
Staying active, even with a simple 30-minute walk each day, helps you maintain a healthy weight and lower your risk of future cancers and other health conditions. Exercise may also help you deal with some of the long-term side effects of cancer treatment, such as pain and fatigue.
Start simple and listen to your body. Try an easy 10-minute walk, building up to 30 minutes of brisk walking a day. Or consider swimming or water aerobics for low-intensity exercise that can be easier if you have pain. If you’re feeling good, jump right in with biking, group fitness or weight lifting.
5. Care for Your Mental Health
Cancer treatment can leave you struggling emotionally, even when you’ve gone into remission. Many cancer survivors experience severe anxiety about their risk of recurrence or depression because of physical changes from treatment.
Your mental health is linked to your overall well-being. Depression, stress and anxiety can cause a host of problems from hurting your sleep habits to making you more likely to engage in poor lifestyle habits like drinking and smoking, according to the Mental Health Foundation.
If you find that you’re suffering from symptoms of depression or experiencing anxiety that stops you from doing normal activities, seek out help. You are not alone. With counselors, support groups and online forums, there are others who have been through the same things and can help you get through them too.
Work with your doctor to discuss your personal risk of future cancers and develop an after cancer treatment care plan. You’ve made it through cancer once, now it’s time to keep living a healthy, cancer-free life.
The certified dietitians at UVA Cancer Center can help you build a healthy eating plan to prevent your cancer from recurring.Learn More