If you’re among the 15.5 million Americans who’ve survived cancer, at some point you’ve wondered, “What’s next for me?” Living beyond this disease is a cause for celebration, and it also requires a new way of looking at your health, says an eye-opening report.
Once survivors say goodbye to their cancer-treatment team, it’s time for their family doctor or internist to step in. Survivors need more than just careful cancer checks; they need care for the other health conditions that 70 percent of them have, as well as support in making great lifestyle choices and spotting long-term effects of their cancer treatments. Yet these health needs may get overlooked, say researchers from the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute.
Just one in eight family doctors in a recent survey said that they discuss survivor care plans with their patients who’ve had cancer, even though plans like that are a road map to great health care. Adults who survived childhood cancer are five times more likely to develop health problems such as heart disease, breathing problems or liver and kidney damage than people who haven’t had cancer. But they might not get the tests that reveal these problems early, when they can be treated most successfully. And, believe it or not, survivors may be more likely to smoke and less likely to follow a healthy diet.
Develop your cancer-survivorship plan. A good plan is personalized for you, easy to understand and straightforward to use. Your oncologist can help you create one, if she or he hasn’t already. (Check out the American Cancer Society’s website at www.cancer.org and search for “survivor care plans”).
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Your plan should include names and phone numbers of doctors and other health-care providers so you can make a quick call with questions and concerns. It should include your cancer-treatment history, the tests you’ll need in the future and when you’ll need them, and possible long-term effects that you might experience due to your cancer therapy. It also should outline goals for staying healthy: eating foods that you (easily learn to) love and that love you back, staying active, managing your weight and getting emotional support as you move forward. You can share this roadmap with health-care helpers, including psychologists, dietitians, doctors, nurses and radiologists.
Move every day. Do what you can, then try to build up to 30-60 minutes of daily walking or whatever exercise makes sense. Include stretching and strength-training moves, too. Talk to your doc about what’s right for you. A growing stack of research shows that activity can help cancer survivors live longer, with a younger RealAge. Movement also reduces stress and can improve sleep.
Fill your plate with foods that love you back: produce, lean protein and good fats. Will a healthy diet alone cut your risk for cancer’s return? (We know it can’t hurt, and can only make you feel better!) In one study of women with breast cancer, those with the highest levels of healthy plant compounds called carotenoids in their blood were 43 percent less likely to see their cancer return, while a later look at the same evidence found no benefit. But a nutritious diet can help you stay generally healthy and may discourage other types of cancer from developing. Limiting red meat, cutting out processed meats (bacon, sausage, cured meats) and keeping alcohol intake to one drink a day help.
Manage your weight. Once treatment is over, aim for a healthy weight — something the American Society of Clinical Oncology recommends for all cancer survivors who are obese (weighing more than 185 pounds, for example, if you’re 5 feet, 6 inches tall). Obesity boosts your risk for developing at least 11 cancers, so staying at a healthy weight not only will help you lower your risk for recurrence of your original cancer, it’ll help you avoid other types of cancer in the future. You’ll slash your risk for diabetes, heart disease and achy knees, too.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.