Developing a Wellness Plan

This page has been modified from the National Cancer Institute's Facing Forward Series: Life After Cancer, last modified in 2017.

After cancer treatment, many survivors want to find ways to reduce the chances of their cancer coming back. Some worry that the way they eat, the stress in their lives, or their exposure to chemicals may put them at risk. Cancer survivors also find that this is a time when they take a good look at how they take care of themselves and their health. This is an important start to living a healthy life after cancer.

When you meet with your doctor about follow-up care, you should ask about developing a wellness plan that includes ways you can take care of your physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs. You may not be used to talking with your doctor as a partner in planning for your health, so it may be hard for you at first, but it is very important that you do it. The more you do it, the easier it will become.

Research is just beginning to show what people can do to lower their risk of getting certain cancers. But we don't yet know why cancer comes back in some people and not others.

Making changes in the way you eat, exercise, and live your life may not prevent your cancer from coming back. However, making these changes can help you feel better and may also lower your chances of developing other health problems.

Changes to Consider

  • Quitting smoking.
    Research shows that smoking can increase the chances of developing cancer at the same site or another site.
  • Cutting down on how much alcohol you drink.
    Research shows that drinking alcohol can increase your chances of developing certain cancers.
  • Eating well and exercising. 

Eating Well After Cancer Treatment

  1. Eat a variety of healthful foods, with an emphasis on foods from plant sources.

    • Eat five or more servings of vegetables and fruits each day.
    • Choose whole grains rather than processed (refined) grains and sugars.
    • Limit eating red meats, especially high fat or processed meats.
    • Choose foods that help you maintain a healthy weight.

    2. Adopt a physically active lifestyle.
    3. Maintain a healthy weight throughout the rest of your life.
    4. Limit drinking alcohol, if you drink at all.

Exercise After Cancer Treatment

Few studies have been done to find out whether physical activity affects survival after cancer treatment. More research is needed to answer this question, but studies have shown that moderate exercise (walking, biking, swimming) for about 30 minutes every—or almost every—day can:

  • Reduce anxiety and depression
  • Improve mood
  • Boost self-esteem
  • Reduce symptoms of fatigue, nausea, pain, and diarrhea

During recovery, it is important to start an exercise program slowly and increase activity over time, working with your doctor or a specialist (such as a physical therapist) if needed. If you need to stay in bed during your recovery, even small activities—like moving your arms or legs around—can help you stay flexible, relieve muscle tension, and help you feel better. Some survivors may need to take special care in exercising. Talk with your doctor before you begin any exercise program.