A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Staying healthy during cancer treatments

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Cancer treatments can cause side effects that make it hard to stay healthy during cancer treatments.

Cancer treatments can be hard on your body – making you sick, lose your appetite and tired. These are just a few side effects that can make it hard to stay healthy during cancer treatments.

Kelly Johnson, clinical dietitian with Marshfield Clinic Health System, suggests talking to your care team as soon as possible if you are having trouble staying healthy.

“I try to meet with people as they are starting their treatment, whether chemotherapy or radiation therapy,” Johnson said.

There are many ways cancer treatments can affect your health:

Food and water intake

Many cancer treatment side effects can affect your food and water intake.

“Usually people just don’t feel good, but treatments can also cause your tastes to change,” Johnson said. “We try to prevent weight loss during treatment because you tend to do better with treatments if you are eating well and holding your weight.”

If you are not feeling good, Johnson recommends eating small and frequent meals. Eating at specific times of the day may be easier, so you should eat more calories during those times. Eating fruits or smoothies can help if you are running into problems with taste.

For fluid intake, you should drink 2-3 liters of fluid a day. If it is difficult for you to drink water, you can add some flavoring to make it more palatable.

In more extreme cases, your doctor can help. They can prescribe medicine to help with nausea and vomiting, provide you with a protein drink or recommend you receive fluids and calories through an IV.

Causing an infection

Chemotherapy can cause neutropenia, which is where your white blood cell counts drop and this makes you more prone to infection.

“Avoiding infection is one of the main topics physicians and nurses provide education about when people start treatment,” said Shayla Mattson, oncology nurse navigator with Marshfield Clinic Health System.

During treatments, it is important to:

  • Wash hands often.
  • Get your flu shot (check with your provider).
  • Practice good oral care.
  • Follow any other precautions as instructed by your care team.

Pain

When you are going through cancer treatments, it is important to control pain. Pain can cause your body to be tense, breathing problems, your stress levels to increase and increased fatigue.

Combatting fatigue can be a big issue for patients regardless of the type of treatments. To reduce fatigue, Mattson recommends staying active by taking short walks. Make sure you do not overdo it.

If you are experiencing pain, talk with your doctor.

Mental health

During cancer treatments, it is normal to feel worried, sad or angry. It is during this time you should seek out support from your family, friends and care team.

“There are many support resources available. Talk with your doctor or oncology social worker for information on area support groups or resources for individual counseling,” Mattson said.

Reaching out to your faith community and other community groups may help as well.

Limit activities that put you at risk

Whether before, during or after cancer treatments, you should avoid activities that put you at risk for developing cancer. Activities to avoid include:

  • Smoking.
  • Alcohol use.
  • Prolonged sun exposure (wear sunscreen).

“Smoking and drinking alcohol during cancer treatment can interfere with treatment and effect treatment outcomes,” Mattson said. “It’s important to talk with your doctor about these habits so that they are able to make recommendations or referrals to help you quit.”

For more information about staying healthy during cancer treatments, talk to your care team.

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