Lifestyle and well-being after treatment
A healthy lifestyle can help your body recover after treatment. It can also help to reduce the risk of other illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes and strokes.
After treatment, you may decide to think about ways to improve your well-being and long-term health. This could form part of your recovery. Your cancer team and GP can give you advice about this.
You could ask if there are any health and well-being clinics or events in your area. These could give you support and advice on diet, lifestyle and adjusting to life after treatment.
There are different things you can do that may have a positive effect on your health and well-being.
If you smoke, stopping is the healthiest decision you can make. It can reduce the side effects of some treatments. Stopping can also help you to heal faster after surgery.
Smoking increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and developing new cancers. It can also make certain late effects of treatment worse. These can include bladder and bowel problems.
Giving up smoking is not easy. Using a stop smoking treatment with help from an NHS support service or your GP gives you the best chance of success. There are support groups available for people trying to quit, as well as one-to-one support. Ask your GP for advice or contact one of the national stop smoking services.
During treatment, you may be less active than usual. This can make you feel more tired. It can also make your muscles lose some strength. Doing a small amount of physical activity regularly, such as going for a short walk, will give you more energy and make you feel stronger. You can gradually build up how much activity you do. Doing too much too soon can make you feel more tired.
Your cancer team or GP can advise you on the type and amount of exercise that is safe for you to do. Some people may need to take special care when exercising.
Some hospitals have exercise programmes for people recovering from treatment. Your cancer team can tell you what is available in your area.
We have more information about physical activity and cancer.
Eating healthily helps your recovery and gives you more energy. It can also help to keep your weight healthy. If your treatment has caused eating problems, follow the advice of your cancer team or dietitian.
- lots of fruit and vegetables
- plenty of starchy foods (carbohydrates), such as rice, potatoes, bread, pasta and couscous
- wholegrains, rather than refined (processed) grains
- some protein-rich foods, such as meat, fish, eggs, nuts and pulses (like beans and lentils)
- some milk and dairy foods, such as cheese, butter and yoghurt
- a limited amount of red meat and processed meat
- a small amount of foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar.
Some treatments may cause changes in how your bowel works. These include surgery to the bowel or radiotherapy to the pelvis. For some people, this may mean a diet that is high in fibre (fruit and vegetables) may not be suitable.
Some cancer treatments may cause changes to your weight. After treatment, try to focus on eating healthily to help your recovery. If you are worried about your weight, ask your cancer team for advice. They can arrange for you to see a dietitian if needed.
If you need to lose weight, it is important to do this gradually by eating a healthy diet and being more physically active. Try to be patient with yourself. These tips may help:
- only eat as much as you need
- eat lots of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains
- limit saturated fats and sugar.
Keeping to a healthy weight has lots of benefits. It reduces the risk of other medical conditions.
If you have lost weight or are having difficulties eating, ask your cancer team for advice. There are different ways to add calories to food. There are also nutritional drinks and powders to help increase your weight. Some of these can be prescribed by your doctor.
We have more information about ways to build up your diet.
Alcohol is linked with an increased risk of some cancers. It can also lead to weight gain. Following sensible drinking guidelines is good for your overall health.
NHS guidelines suggest that both men and women should:
- not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol in a week
- spread the alcohol units they drink in a week over 3 or more days
- try to have several alcohol-free days every week.
A unit of alcohol is:
- half a pint of ordinary-strength beer, lager or cider
- one small glass (125ml) of wine
- a single measure (25ml) of spirits.
There is more information about alcohol and drinking guidelines at drinkaware.co.uk
You may be invited to a health and well-being clinic. At the clinic, you can find out more about healthy living and local support that is available. There are usually different workshops, stalls and talks. They happen in a hospital or in the community and usually last a few hours.
Health and well-being clinics can be a good way to meet people in a similar situation to you. They usually provide information about:
- eating well and having a healthy lifestyle
- possible long-term effects of treatment
- emotional effects and how to get help if you need it
- signs and symptoms to look out for, and who to contact if they happen
- claiming benefits and other financial support
- getting back to work or education
- local services, such as support groups and local physical activity groups.
Finding ways to reduce stress and anxiety in your life can help with your recovery. It may help to:
- talk about your feelings with family, friends, health professional or people going through a similar experience
- do things you enjoy, such as spending time with family and friends or getting back to hobbies you did before treatment
- do regular physical activity, such as walking, cycling and swimming
- try complementary therapies, such as relaxation, meditation and yoga.
Find out what suits you best. Your recovery will take time, so know your limits. Try to ask for help when you need it.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our after treatment information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
European Society for Medical Oncology: Supporting self-management of patients and family members. 2019.
Macmillan Cancer Support. Providing personalised care for people living with cancer: a guide for professionals providing holistic needs assessments, care and support planning. 2019.
Maher, J et al. Implementation of nationwide cancer survivorship plans: Experience from the UK. Journal of Cancer Policy. 2018. Vol 15, pp 76-81.
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.
Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.