Five Important Safeguards for Cancer Survivors

Friday, February 6, 2015 - 2:02pm

A cancer diagnosis isn’t a reason to stop being vigilant when it comes to prevention. In fact, cancer patients have even more reason to be on guard, because they usually have a higher risk for infection or for developing other types of cancer. Here are five steps you can take to decrease that risk:

1) Improve your diet and increase your intake of plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, including beans, chickpeas, and lentils). 
Diet plays a big role in how your body fends off cancer and responds to treatment. The Men's Eating And Living (MEAL) study has shown that improving the diets of men with slow-growing prostate cancer reduces the likelihood that the disease will become more aggressive.

2) It’s more important than ever to stop smoking. If you smoke, stop.
Studies show that cancer treatment is less effective in active smokers, who often face longer healing times and a greater risk of infection compared with non-smokers.

RPCI’s Just Breathe program can help. Just Breathe offers behavioral counseling, medications to help you quit, and cessation support for all RPCI patients and their family members who smoke. For details, call 1-877-ASK-RPCI (1-877-275-7724).

3) Take cover from the sun.
Cancer patients who lose their hair during treatment can face special challenges in trying to avoid sun damage that can cause skin cancer. Even in winter, the sun’s ultraviolet rays are stronger than you might think — and reflection from the snow can cause unexpected burns.

“A broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF of at least 30 should be applied to all sun-exposed areas,” says Ilene Rothman, MD, Department of Dermatology. “The sunscreen should be water-resistant and reapplied periodically as noted on the bottle.”

4) Find out whether you have an inherited risk of cancer.
Only about 5-10% of cancers are caused by inherited genetic mutations (abnormalities). Even if you already have cancer, an inherited mutation may mean you’re at risk of developing other primary cancers in the future, and that your relatives may also be at increased risk for cancer. Knowing about that risk could affect decisions about screening and treatment.

Roswell Park’s Clinical Genetics Service can help determine whether or not you are a candidate for genetic testing; identify the right type of genetic test and assist you in pursuing it; interpret and explain the results; and describe the options for managing any increased cancer risk you might have, based on the result of genetic testing.

If you’re concerned about whether or not you have an inherited cancer risk, the first step is to talk with your physician or contact RPCI’s Cancer Information Program (1-877-ASK-RPCI or 1-877-275-7724).

5) Stay active! 
Exercise can increase the overall success of your treatment and decrease the chance that your cancer will recur. Be sure to talk with your doctor before changing your diet or starting a new exercise program.