June 09, 2023
After your cancer diagnosis comes treatment. After your cancer treatment comes … what?
The rest of your life, says Andrew L. Salner, MD, a radiation oncologist and medical director of the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute at Hartford Hospital.
“We have 18 million cancer survivors nationally,” says Dr. Salner. “As cancer therapy improves and cancers are detected earlier, the numbers are getting better all the time. I tell my patients, your goal is to live as healthy a life as possible after cancer therapy in the hopes you will have a long and happy life. You’re not just a cancer patient. You’re a whole person.”
Dr. Salner shared five tips with us.
1. Stay active.
The recommendation is for 150-300 minutes of physical activity a week, with exercise a minimum of five days per week. Dr. Salner notes that being physically active helps to reduce cancer recurrence risk, boosts energy, helps to reduce anxiety and stress, helps to maintain a healthy weight, and helps to manage other medical conditions.
But he adds that this recommendation doesn’t mean everyone needs to start training for a marathon. “Start slow,” he advises patients who haven’t exercised much. “A five to 10 minute brisk walk a few days a week. Build from there.”
2. Avoid tobacco.
“Smoking is still the biggest cause of cancer-related mortality, please seek help in quitting all tobacco products,” he says.
3. Eat well.
Salner says studies show that diets lower in sources of saturated fats such as red and processed meat, lower in carbohydrates, and higher in vegetables and fruit (plant-based diets), can lower second cancer risk and improve health.
“Eating five servings of vegetables and fruit daily would be a good goal,” he says. “Opting for legumes (beans) and whole grains rather than processed foods is a healthier choice.”
4. Limit alcohol intake.
Alcohol use, particularly if excessive, may increase risk of several cancers.
5. Reduce stress and sleep well.
“Reducing stress will improve quality of life and can be accomplished through regular exercise, relaxation and meditation techniques, counseling, and interacting with family and friends,” he says.
“Getting enough sleep is an essential part of recovery and can be aided by avoiding caffeine for eight hours before bedtime, adhering to a regular sleep schedule, avoiding device and TV screen time for an hour or so before bedtime, avoiding exercise in the three hours before bedtime, and keeping your bedroom quiet and cool.”
A big contributor to stress in post-cancer life is the fear of recurrence,” Dr. Salner notes. “It’s why we have counseling available for patients who have an overwhelming level of fear,” he says. “And while the fear of recurrence does get better over time, it’s probably always there. Talk with your oncologist about what you are feeling. They can make a referral.”