Lifestyle Changes After Cancer of the Esophagus
You can’t change the fact that you have had cancer. What you can change is how you live the rest of your life – making choices to help you stay healthy and feel as well as you can. This can be a time to look at your life in new ways. Maybe you’re thinking about how to improve your health over the long term. Some people even start during cancer treatment.
Making healthier choices
For many people, a diagnosis of cancer helps them focus on their health in ways they may not have thought much about in the past. Are there things you could do that might make you healthier? Maybe you could try to eat better or get more exercise. Maybe you could cut down on alcohol, or give up tobacco. Even things like keeping your stress level under control may help. Now is a good time to think about making changes that can have positive effects for the rest of your life. You will feel better and you will also be healthier.
You can start by working on those things that worry you most. Get help with those that are harder for you. For instance, if you are thinking about quitting smoking and need help, call the American Cancer Society for information and support at 1-800-227-2345.
Eating right can be hard for anyone, but it can get even tougher during and after cancer treatment. This is especially true for cancers of the esophagus. The cancer or its treatment may affect how you swallow or cause other problems. Nausea can be a problem from some treatments. You may not feel like eating and lose weight when you don’t want to. All of these things can be very frustrating.
During treatment: Many people lose weight or have taste problems during treatment. If this happens to you, do the best you can. Eat whatever appeals to you. Eat what you can, when you can. Now is not the time to restrict your diet. You may find it helps to eat small portions every 2 to 3 hours. Try to keep in mind that these problems usually improve over time. You may want to ask your cancer team about seeing a dietitian, an expert in nutrition who can give you ideas on how to fight some of the side effects of your treatment.
After treatment: Many patients have trouble with reflux after treatment. It may help to stay upright for several hours after eating.
In some patients, the stomach was used to replace all or part of the esophagus. This can mean that the stomach can’t hold food for digestion like it did before. The food that is swallowed quickly passes into the intestine, leading to symptoms of diarrhea, sweating, and flushing after eating. This is called the dumping syndrome. This may mean you have to change your diet and how you eat. For example, you may need to eat smaller amounts of food more often.
Your health care team can help you adjust your diet if you are having problems eating.
One of the best things you can do after cancer treatment is to practice healthy eating habits. You may be surprised at the long-term benefits of some simple changes, like increasing the variety of healthy foods you eat. Getting to and staying at a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, and limiting your alcohol intake may lower your risk for a number of types of cancer, as well as having many other health benefits.
For more information, see Nutrition and Physical Activity During and After Cancer Treatment: Answers to Common Questions.
Rest, fatigue, and exercise
Extreme tiredness, called fatigue, is very common in people treated for cancer. This is not a normal tiredness, but a bone-weary exhaustion that often doesn’t get better with rest. For some people, fatigue lasts a long time after treatment, and can make it hard for them to be active and do other things they want to do. But exercise can help reduce fatigue. Studies have shown that patients who follow an exercise program tailored to their personal needs feel better physically and emotionally and can cope better, too.
If you were sick and not very active during treatment, it’s normal for your fitness, endurance, and muscle strength to decline. Any plan for physical activity should fit your own situation. A person who has never exercised will not be able to take on the same amount of exercise as someone who plays tennis twice a week. If you haven’t been active in a few years, you will have to start slowly – maybe just by taking short walks.
Talk with your health care team before starting anything. Get their opinion about your exercise plans. Then, try to find an exercise buddy so you’re not doing it alone. Having family or friends involved when starting a new activity program can give you that extra boost of support to keep you going when the push just isn’t there.
If you are very tired, you will need to learn to balance activity with rest. It’s OK to rest when you need to. Sometimes it’s really hard for people to allow themselves to rest when they are used to working all day or taking care of a household, but this is not the time to push yourself too hard. Listen to your body and rest when you need to. (For more information on dealing with fatigue, see Fatigue in People With Cancer and Anemia in People With Cancer.)
Keep in mind exercise can improve your physical and emotional health.
- It improves your cardiovascular (heart and circulation) fitness.
- Along with a good diet, it will help you get to and stay at a healthy weight.
- It makes your muscles stronger.
- It reduces fatigue and helps you have more energy.
- It can help lower anxiety and depression.
- It can make you feel happier.
- It helps you feel better about yourself.
And long term, we know that getting regular physical activity plays a role in helping to lower the risk of some cancers, as well as having other health benefits.
Last Medical Review: March 20, 2014 Last Revised: February 4, 2016
- What Happens After Treatment for Cancer of the Esophagus?
- Lifestyle Changes After Cancer of the Esophagus
- Can I Lower the Risk of My Esophagus Cancer Progressing or Coming Back?
- Can I Get Another Cancer After Having Esophagus Cancer?
- How Might Having Esophagus Cancer Affect Your Emotional Health?
- If Treatment for Cancer of the Esophagus Stops Working