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Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy can take a toll on patients' bodies. Though the side effects vary depending on the type of cancer and the treatment being administered, cancer patients may experience both short- and long-term consequences related to their treatments, leaving many with some work to do once their treatments have proven successful.
Fatigue, bruising and bleeding and skin irritation are some of the more common short-term side effects associated with cancer treatments. But cancer patients may also experience long-term side effects. For example, Susan G. Komen®, a tax-exempt organization that aims to address breast cancer through various initiatives, notes that early menopause is a potential long-term consequence of breast cancer treatments.
Helping their bodies recover after cancer treatment is a primary goal for many cancer survivors. While cancer survivors should work with their physicians to devise a post-treatment recovery plan, the following are some helpful tips for survivors to keep in mind as they get back in the swing of things.
• Recognize the importance of exercise. Cancer survivors who did not exercise much prior to their diagnosis should recognize the important role that exercise can play in their lives going forward. According to the Mayo Clinic, cancer survivors who exercise may benefit from improved mood and sleep, and many report feeling less anxiety than they did during or prior to treatment. And the American Cancer Society notes that some evidence suggests that maintaining a healthy weight, eating right and being physically active may reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and other serious, chronic diseases.
• Take it slow. Cancer survivors should approach their post-treatment recovery slowly at first as they reacclimate their bodies to regular exercise. According to the ACS, cancer survivors should aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise five or more days per week. As the body grows more accustomed to exercise, survivors can increase the intensity and duration of that exercise. But some low-intensity yet routine exercise once treatment has ended is a great first step on the path to recovery.
• Don't downplay feelings of fatigue. While fatigue is generally a short-term side effect of cancer treatment, survivors should not downplay any feelings of fatigue that linger even after treatment has run its course. On days when cancer survivors lack the energy for vigorous physical activity, a walk around the block or something similar can take the place of more strenuous activities. Report prolonged feelings of post-treatment fatigue to your physician.
• Focus on nutrition. The ACS notes that a healthy diet can help cancer survivors regain their strength and rebuild tissue. The ACS recommends that cancer survivors try to eat at least 21⁄2 cups of fruits and vegetables each day and include plenty of high-fiber foods in their diets. In addition, the ACS suggests limiting red meat intake to no more than three to four servings per week.
Bouncing back from successful cancer treatments may take survivors some time, but staying committed to exercise and a healthy diet can help survivors regain their strength and potentially reduce their risk of recurrence.