Living Well After Cancer

Healthy eating and regular exercise are good for everyone, but they’re particularly important for cancer survivors. Studies have shown a healthy lifestyle is linked to higher cancer survival rates and may help lower recurrence risk. The American Cancer Society’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines provide simple strategies and tips for living well after cancer treatment.

Nutrition & Cancer Survivorship

Both diet and exercise play a vital role in staying healthy following your cancer treatment. Mercy has a team of dedicated nutritionists who support cancer survivors with personalized health plans. They’ll work with you to address and achieve your health and personal fitness goals. Lifestyle changes may include the following.

Choose Lean Proteins

When it comes to eating animal products, opting for fish, poultry or tofu can improve your overall health. Limit your intake of red meat and processed meat. It’s also best to avoid cooking meats at high temperatures. Try baking, roasting and braising instead. 

Incorporate Plant-Based Foods

Try eating more “meatless” meals by cooking with beans, tofu, legumes, nuts and seeds. Aim for a plate with half vegetables (cooked or raw) a quarter lean protein and a quarter whole grains. Make sure you’re eating fruits daily — especially whole fruits in a variety of colors. 

Avoid Processed and Refined Sugar

Limit your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, sugary foods, cereals and snacks for healthy weight control.

Limit Alcohol

Limit your alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Consider choosing water or green tea instead of alcoholic beverages.

Skip the Supplements

Real food (not supplements) is the best source of vitamins and minerals. Dietary supplements don’t provide the same cancer-fighting benefits as fruits and vegetables. And some high-dose supplements may even increase your cancer risk.

Increase Exercise & Physical Activity

Stay as active as possible throughout your day. Start with simple changes like parking your car farther away, taking the stairs instead of the elevator and walking during work breaks. Talk with your Mercy doctor about the type of exercise that’s right for you. For healthy adults, exercising at least 150 minutes a week (including two days of strength training) increases lean body mass and improves overall health. Exercise also helps reduce stress.

Maintain Healthy Body Weight

Achieving and maintaining a healthy overall weight for your height is important following treatment. After cancer care, weight gain or loss should be managed through a combination of a regular diet, physical activity and behavioral strategies.

Recipes from Mercy Dietitians

These nutritious recipes curated by our dietitians show how quick and easy healthy eating can be. And diets rich in nutrients help cancer patients stay strong during – and healthy after – cancer treatment.

Naturally sweet flavors of winter combine in this filling main-dish salad, packed full of Vitamin A and fiber. Yields 6 servings.

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Warm up with this hearty and delicious soup, rich in vitamin A, vitamin K, fiber and lean protein. Yields 4-6 servings.

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This light and healthy salad is a great lunch or snack that you can whip up in 15 minutes. It’s loaded with fresh ingredients, lean protein and a refreshing flavor. Try it on a bed of lettuce, a piece of whole-grain bread or a few whole-grain crackers. Yields 10 servings. 

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This naturally sweetened and baked oatmeal includes blueberries (or any fruit you’d like), wholesome oats, nuts and spices. Bake some now and enjoy it for the rest of the week. Yields 6-8 servings.

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Green tea is a rich source of antioxidants, which help protect cells from damage. Swap out your soda for this healthy and refreshing beverage. Yields 6-8 servings.

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Cooking Demo: Nutrition During Cancer Treatment

Learn about food and nutrition during cancer treatment with expert info from Mercy's Chef Eric & Dietitian Elizabeth Huseman.

Survivorship Resources