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Healthy Living

General Information

It is especially important for the cancer survivor to lead a lifestyle that promotes good health by eliminating preventable risks. Risk defines a person’s chance of getting a disease over a certain period of time. Some risks you can prevent (for instance, smoking) and some are out of your control (like family history). Some cancer diagnoses and treatments cause you to have a greater risk of developing certain diseases later in life. Prevention refers to lowering the risk of developing disease. A healthy lifestyle incorporates many areas of disease prevention and includes not using tobacco products, eating a low-fat, high-fiber plant-based diet, exercising regularly, avoiding excessive alcohol intake and practicing sun safety.

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Don't Smoke
The single most preventable cause of death in the U.S. is tobacco use, particularly cigarette smoking. The only advice about tobacco products is DO NOT SMOKE OR USE ANY FORM OF SMOKELESS TOBACCO. Most tobacco users start using before they finish high school. Statistics show that one-third of the one million teens who start smoking each year will die from their addiction. So if you don't smoke, don't start and if you do smoke, quit.

Also, avoid second-hand tobacco smoke. Second-hand smoke is a combination of the smoke that is released from the end of a lit cigarette and the exhaled smoke. It's the No. 1 preventable risk factor for serious and chronic disease in nonsmokers in our country. Nonsmokers who live or work with smokers experience a 30 to 50 percent elevated risk for lung cancer. Your treatment may already put you at increased risk of lung problems (see Late-Effects After Treatment Tool). Smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke will only add to these problems.

Because tobacco is addictive, quitting can be difficult. Studies show that smokers who quit before age 50 will cut their risk of dying in half over the next five years compared with those who continue to smoke.

There are programs to help you stop smoking. For more information about how to quit, call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at 1-800-CDC-1311 or the National Cancer Institute at 1-877-448-7848. Also, refer to the helpful links on this site for additional smoking-cessation programs.

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Eat Right
Eating a balanced diet is a key part of your healthy lifestyle. You should ask your doctor about any specific nutritional needs that you might have, especially before beginning a special diet. Although developing cancer in childhood is not linked to diet or any other behaviors, some adult cancers are linked to diet. The National Cancer Institute has found that 35 percent of adult cancers are diet-related. The National Cancer Institute, the Diet and Cancer Project and the American Cancer Society recommend the following guidelines. These guidelines are just suggestions for nutritional health; your individual creativity and food preferences will allow you to maintain variety in your diet.

What you eat has a direct impact on your health. It is important to eat a healthy diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans. Limit the intake of red meat and processed foods that are high in sugar, low in fiber or high in fat. Restrict the amount of salty foods and processed foods with salt. Pay particular attention to the portions of the food you eat, paying attention to what your portions are and how they correlate to standard servings. Make sure 2/3 of your diet consist of plant based foods and 1/3 or less is from animal foods such as meat and cheese. Consume cured meats such as bacon and cold cuts on rare occasion.

Healthy Eating Tips:

  • Limit your salt intake. Try using other herbs and spices (paprika, garlic powder, thyme and oregano) to flavor food. In some individuals, high salt intake appears linked to high blood pressure and other conditions.
  • Only 20-25% of your total calories per day should come from fat
  • Less than a third of the calories from fat should come from an animal source
  • Fast food can add excess calories, fat and sodium to your diet
  • Try switching from whole milk to skim milk
  • Use only low-fat varieties of dairy products
  • Eat cheese in very moderate amounts
  • Use olive or canola oil when cooking instead of butter or shortening
  • Eat plenty of protein. By reducing the amount of meat you eat, you may be eliminating some protein from your diet. Soy products and beans have high levels of protein and will help you maintain a balanced diet.
  • Tell your doctor about any changes in weight or appetite or problems with digestion. Ask if there are specific nutritional needs related to your diagnosis or treatment. A healthy diet can help to protect against cancer and aid in fighting the disease.
  • Restaurants and food labels usually use portions much larger than needed. Try to reduce portion size and take leftovers home. Another way to reduce portion size is to use smaller bowls and plates.

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Exercise
Even if you feel great and are in good health, it is important to consult with your physician before beginning any workout program. Certain types of chemotherapy used in treating childhood cancer may lead to heart disease, which could then be aggravated by strenuous activity. For instance, some survivors who have had adria drugs (doxorubicin and adriamycin, for example) can put themselves at a higher risk of heart damage by doing isometric exercises (pull-ups and bench pressing, for instance.) Discussing your exercise regimen with your doctor first will help ensure your safety (see Late-Effects After Treatment Tool).

A sedentary lifestyle is another contributor to adult cancers. Physical activity has been proven to reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer, coronary heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and possibly breast cancer. Although there is no firm link between physical activity and reducing cancer recurrence, physical activity is known to increase energy, improve mood, boost self-esteem, stimulate the immune system and reduce symptoms of pain, diarrhea, and constipation.

Diet, in combination with physical exercise, will help you attain a healthy, normal weight, as defined by your doctor. Once you've reached your ideal weight, limit weight gain throughout adulthood to less than 11 pounds and avoid significant and frequent weight gains or losses. The American Institute for Cancer Research has excellent guidelines for maintaining healthy weight, as well as thorough nutrition information.

Getting Started:
Start with a workout routine that has a consistent level of limited to moderate activity. Schedule periods of moderate activity (at least 30 minutes of some form of aerobic exercise that raises your heart rate) several times a week.

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Avoid Alcohol
Evidence suggests that drinking large amounts of alcohol can cause an increased risk of several types of cancer, including breast cancer. Alcohol can also cause liver failure and a variety of other chronic conditions. People who have received chemotherapy may be more susceptible to liver problems (see Late-Effects After Treatment Tool).

In addition, alcohol provides calories without providing nutrition. Drinking is not recommended as part of a healthful lifestyle. Anyone, especially cancer survivors, who does drink is advised to do so only in very moderate amounts. If you do drink, limit your alcohol intake to less than one drink per day. Please note that this does not mean you can justify a night of binge drinking by not drinking alcohol several days in advance. In fact, many studies show that binge drinking is significantly more dangerous than moderate consumption.

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Practice Sun Safety:

  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UV-A and UV-B rays and has a SPF (sun-protection factor) of 15 or more. An SPF of 15 will block out 93 percent of burning rays.
  • Apply sunscreen about 15 to 20 minutes before exposure to the sun
  • Apply sunscreen in a thick layer and reapply every two hours, especially if you are swimming or sweating
  • Sunscreen has a shelf life of only about two years
  • Limit time in the sun and avoid exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Keep an umbrella with you to shade you when you are in the sun
  • Avoid reflective surfaces like water, sand and concrete
  • Wear a broad-brimmed hat (at least a 4-inch brim) when you are out in the sun
  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from exposure to UV light
  • Indoor tanning beds contain the same dangerous UV rays as natural sun exposure and should not be used

Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is one of the most common forms of cancers in Americans between the ages of 25 and 29. Almost everyone experiences some burning and damage from the sun as a child. When used consistently, sun-protective practices can prevent skin cancer.

Skin Cancer Warning Signs:
While most skin moles are harmless, you should tell your doctor if a mole changes color, shape or size, appears suddenly, has an irregular border, or is itchy or bleeds. The difference in growth of just a few millimeters in a single mole can actually be the difference between life and death. Be especially aware of moles in body areas that have received radiation treatments.

Remember: if you have already been exposed to radiation treatment, you are at a higher risk of skin cancer and should severely limit sun exposure (see Late-Effects After Treatment Tool).

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