Why Cancer Patients in Remission Often Struggle to Adopt a Healthier Lifestyle

The triumph of overcoming cancer and reaching remission is no small feat. Yet, after the battles fought and won, one might assume that patients would do everything possible to adopt the healthiest lifestyles. Paradoxically, some patients in remission don’t always prioritize their health to the degree we might expect. But why? The answer is multifaceted and deeply human.

1. Emotional Exhaustion

Cancer survivors may feel emotionally and physically drained after the rigors of chemotherapy, radiation, surgeries, and other treatments. This fatigue can translate into resistance to making additional changes, especially if they perceive these changes as demanding or strenuous.

2. Perceived Invulnerability

Having beaten cancer once, some survivors may feel a sense of invulnerability. They might think, “Nothing can harm me if I’ve beaten cancer.” While empowering in some contexts, this mindset can deter individuals from seeing the continued importance of a healthy lifestyle.

3. Overwhelm and Information Overload

The world of health and wellness is vast. The sheer amount of information can be overwhelming, from diet fads to exercise routines. For someone who has just emerged from a system that dictated their medical protocol, navigating this new world can seem daunting.

4. Economic Factors

Cancer treatment is expensive. Patients might grapple with significant medical bills post-treatment, leading to economic stress. This can limit their ability to purchase healthier foods, join gyms, or invest in other aspects of a healthy lifestyle.

5. Fear of the Unknown

Some survivors are fearful that certain exercises or foods might trigger a recurrence. Without clear guidelines on what is “safe,” they might opt for a more cautious approach, which might not necessarily be the healthiest one.

6. Mental Health Challenges

Depression, anxiety, and PTSD can be aftermaths of a cancer diagnosis and treatment. Mental health challenges can be debilitating, making it challenging for survivors to prioritize physical health.

7. Desire to Reclaim Life

After months or even years of treatment, some patients want to feel ‘normal’ again. This might mean indulging in the foods they love or avoiding the gym – simply because they want a break from the constant focus on their health.

8. Misconceptions

There may be misconceptions about what “healthy” means. For instance, a patient might believe they are making healthy choices when, in reality, they are adhering to outdated or misinformed advice.

9. Lack of Support

A robust support system is crucial for making and maintaining lifestyle changes. If a patient doesn’t have a supportive community or the necessary resources post-treatment, it becomes harder to make health-centric decisions.

10. Physical Limitations

The side effects of cancer treatments can sometimes result in physical limitations, making it difficult for survivors to engage in regular exercise or other healthy habits.

It’s essential to approach the topic with empathy and understanding. While it seems intuitive to lead a healthy lifestyle post-cancer, the human experience is complex. Addressing these challenges requires a holistic approach, considering the physical, emotional, economic, and psychological factors.

Exercise and physical activity have long been recognized for their overall health benefits.

Regarding cancer, multiple studies have suggested that regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing certain cancers and improve outcomes for those diagnosed with cancer. Here’s an overview:

1. Cancer Prevention:

Breast Cancer:

  • Regular exercise appears to lower the risk of breast cancer, particularly for postmenopausal women.
  • Potential mechanisms: Exercise affects hormonal levels, especially estrogen, which is linked to certain types of breast cancer. It also helps in weight control, another significant factor for breast cancer risk.

Colon Cancer:

  • Physical activity is consistently linked with a reduced risk of colon cancer.
  • Potential mechanisms: Exercise accelerates waste movement through the gut, reducing the gastrointestinal tract’s exposure to potential carcinogens.

Endometrial, Lung, and Ovarian Cancers:

  • Exercise seems to reduce the risk of these cancers, though the evidence is more variable than breast and colon cancer.

2. Cancer Prognosis and Outcomes:

  • Improved Survival Rates: Regular exercise has been associated with improved survival rates among cancer patients, especially those with breast and colon cancer.
  • Reduced Side Effects: Physical activity can ameliorate some side effects of cancer treatments, like fatigue, anxiety, depression, and the decline of overall physical function.
  • Reduced Recurrence: Some studies suggest that exercise might reduce the risk of cancer recurrence, especially for breast cancer.

3. Biological Mechanisms Linking Exercise to Cancer Prevention:

  • Hormone Regulation: Exercise can reduce levels of certain hormones like insulin and estrogen, which are linked to cancer development and growth.
  • Immune System Enhancement: Regular exercise can boost the immune system, potentially enhancing the body’s ability to prevent or control tumor growth.
  • Inflammation Reduction: Chronic inflammation is associated with a higher cancer risk, and exercise can reduce inflammatory markers.
  • Body Weight Regulation: Obesity is a well-recognized risk factor for various cancers. Exercise helps control weight, reducing obesity-related cancer risks.

4. Recommendations:

The American Cancer Society recommends:

  • At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week, preferably spread throughout the week.
  • Strength training exercises at least two days per week.
  • Limiting sedentary behavior such as sitting, lying down, and watching TV.

Exercise is a potent tool in the fight against cancer, both in prevention and in improving the quality of life for those diagnosed. However, consulting with a healthcare professional before beginning any exercise regimen is essential, especially for cancer patients or survivors, as individual needs and conditions can vary.