If you’ve successfully had treatment for lung cancer and now don’t have signs of any cancerous cells in your body, that’s reason for celebration. But it’s hard not to worry about the cancer coming back. There’s no guarantee you won’t have a recurrence. A lot depends on the type of lung cancer and the stage you were in when you were diagnosed. But there are things you can do to lower your risk and stay as healthy as possible.
If You Smoke, Quit
Smoking tobacco in any form is a complete no-no. You’re more likely to have your lung cancer come back. Smoking also puts you at risk of having other types of cancer. If you don’t quit, it may affect how well your body reacts to cancer treatments and it may make side effects worse.
In people who had non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which makes up about 80%-85% of lung cancer diagnoses, smoking makes it more than twice as likely for your tumor to come back, and almost two times as likely for another tumor to form.
It’s never too late to quit. Talk to your doctor about ways you can start to cut back.
Tips to quit:
- Don’t do it alone. Find a support group.
- Manage your stress. It’s a common trigger for smoking.
- Ask your doctor about medications that can help to control your urges.
- Make a timeline and set small, achievable goals.
Stay away from others who smoke. Secondhand smoke raises cancer risk, as well.
Limit Exposure to Cancer-Causing Things in the Environment
Several cancer-causing chemicals and substances in the environment may put you at a higher risk for your lung cancer to relapse. Try to avoid or limit your exposure to these substances, especially at home or at your workplace.
Radon is one such dangerous substance. It’s a natural gas that you can’t see, smell, or taste. Radon causes around 20,000 cases of lung cancer each year in the U.S. and is the second leading cause after smoking. It comes from rocks and dirt and can get trapped in your home or buildings.
To avoid exposure, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends that you test your home and office for it. You can either purchase a do-it-yourself kit or hire a professional to test for radon. As many as 1 out of every 15 homes in the U.S. may have high levels of the gas.
Asbestos is another cancer-causing agent. It’s not used in construction today, but it can still be found inside older buildings -- in the insulation and other materials. It’s known to cause mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer. Asbestos exposure at work has been linked to as much as 80% of mesothelioma cases.
Jobs including construction, shipbuilding, manufacturing, and firefighting can put you in close contact with such hazardous materials. It’s possible you may have been exposed to asbestos over the years.
Other cancer-causing substances that may increase your lung cancer risk are:
- Arsenic -- usually found in well water
- Diesel exhaust
- Some forms of silica
If you have come in close contact or have been exposed for a long time to any of these substances, tell your doctor.
Eat a Healthy Diet
While there isn’t a clear link between diet and lung cancer coming back, eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet may make you less likely to get cancer. It can also make a big difference in how you feel as you recover from treatment.
Tips to healthy eating include:
- Eat several servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day.
- Include green leafy vegetables in your daily diet.
- Eat whole grains and legumes.
- Cut back or avoid red meats like lamb, pork, and beef.
- Limit how much processed food you eat.
- Avoid sugary drinks.
- Don’t drink alcohol. It increases your risk for many types of cancer. If you do decide to drink, limit it to one drink per day for women, two for men.
Treatment side effects may change your appetite and taste buds. If that happens to you, try to eat small meals more often.
Before you take any supplements to boost your diet, check with your doctor or your cancer care team. In the United States, supplements aren’t well-regulated. Some studies show that certain vitamin supplements, including beta-carotene, B6, and B12, may increase your risk for lung cancer, especially if you’re a smoker.
Lung cancer treatment can take a toll on your body and leave you with shortness of breath and fatigue even when you’re resting. Research shows that exercise can help manage some of your post-treatment symptoms and may lower your risk of cancer coming back or of getting a second cancer.
Physical activity may improve your lung capacity, quality of life, endurance, and muscle strength.
Before you start any exercise program, make sure to check in with your doctor or your cancer care team. They can help you modify some exercises to better suit your physical health. It may seem scary at first, but you can start slow and work your way up over time. You might:
- Start with short walks. Try 5-10 minutes of walking several times a day. A pedometer, a device that counts the number of steps you take when you walk, can be a helpful thing to carry when you go on walks. Set small, achievable goals as you work your way up to longer distances.
- Work on keeping your shoulders rolled back and chin up for deep breathing exercises. Physical activity can improve your posture. This may ease your breathing and lung capacity.
- Make sure to stretch, warm up, and cool down before and after you exercise.
- After a while, talk to your doctor about how to start strength training. It can improve your muscle and bone density.
Don’t Miss Doctor Appointments
After treatment, it’s important to have regular follow-ups and screenings with your doctor and cancer care team. This will help to keep an eye out for any signs or symptoms of lung cancer returning, a second cancer, or a new disease.
Your follow-up visits may include CT scans and blood tests for every 3 months for the first 2 to 3 years after you’re done with treatment. After that, you may need to be seen only one or two times each year.
It’s not uncommon to feel anxious every time you have to go back in for a scan, but you need to keep up with it. If cancer does return, finding it early can help with your long-term survival rate and improve your quality of life.
Use these visits to talk to your doctor about any concerns or treatment side effects you may have. If you’re feeling anxious, speak to a therapist to find ways you can manage the stress. Connecting with other lung cancer survivors through a support group may help, too.
Make sure to pay attention to your body. If you notice any changes or problems in your health, tell your doctor as soon as possible.