Cancer is no longer a foreign in today’s community. Each of us, would know of at least one person who have been diagnosed with cancer.
According to the Malaysian National Cancer Registry Report 2007-2011, a total number of 1033,507 new cancer cases were diagnosed in Malaysia from year 2007 to year 2011. This non-communicable disease is responsible for 13.56 percent of all deaths in Malaysia’s Ministry of Health hospitals in year 2015.
Thankfully, with modern medical technology, cancer treatments and diagnostics have evolved tremendously. Hence, improving the chance of cancer survival. Though, above all, maintaining a healthy immunity is of utmost importance for any cancer patient. Here we share important tips, answers to common information and pertinent information on how to stay healthy while one is undergoing cancer treatment.
Everything in life changes when a patient is diagnosed with cancer. The first obstacle that comes along with being a cancer patient is the physical changes which brings cancer patients into an entirely new world. During cancer treatment, a patient undergoes tremendous pressure physically, emotionally, and psychologically.
It is important that a patient stay healthy and positive during this cancer fighting period. Research suggests that a balance nutrition, active lifestyle, and healthy habits empower patients to cope and tolerate better with treatment related side effects.
Furthermore, stay healthy during cancer treatment can help patients to strengthen their immunity, lower the risk of opportunistic infection and keep their strength and energy levels high thereby improving the rate of healing and recovery.
Yes, cancer treatment can temporarily weaken a patient’s immunity. Cancer treatment such as chemotherapy, biological therapies and radiotherapy can weaken immunity temporarily by suppressing the production of white blood cells in your bone marrow.
Often, high doses of steroids are required after a cycle of chemotherapy to avoid nausea and vomiting induced by chemo agents. Steroids reduce inflammation (a process which white blood cells and chemicals protects the body against infection and foreign substance such as bacteria and viruses) and compromises a human’s innate immune system by suppressing the production of immune cells in the body. Therefore, high doses of steroids suppress a patient’s immune system further and makes the patient prone to infection.
Toxic burden from cancer treatment can compromise the immune system. Patients are advised to avoid exposing themselves to environment and foods that makes them prone to infection. There are five science-backed up tips to strengthen immunity during cancer treatment:
1. Get Enough Sleep
Aim for seven hours or more of sleep a night. Sleep deprivation suppresses immune function, increases inflammatory marker and thereby decreases the body’s ability to respond to infection.
2. Eat Right
Stay hydrated, consume food that is low in fat, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain products with adequate levels of the major macronutrients as well as the various vitamins and minerals. Eat well to obtain different nutrients to support the immune system; eat smart by avoiding food that could interfere with cancer treatment.
3. Stay Physically Active
Aim for light to moderate exercise, 40 to 60 minutes each day. Research shows that moderate exercise can increase innate immune cells production and activity. Exercise also oxygenates your blood and reduce stress hormones such as, cortisol inside our body.
4. Reduce Stress
Talk to a mental health professional, practice meditation and get training on stress management. Physical and mental stress increases the production of stress hormones which suppresses immune cells activity.
5. Avoid Falling Sick
Steer clear of crowded places, avoid eating food that may contain unsafe level of germs. This may reduce the exposure of germs and safeguard the immune level of cancer patients.
Taking supplements during cancer therapy remains controversial. However, cancer patients are strongly advised to obtain a balance in nutrition such as vitamins, minerals, fats and proteins through their daily diet.
A growing number of studies show that commonly used herbs and supplements can interact with cancer chemotherapy or radiation therapy. These may be due to pharmacokinetic interactions where the active compound of a supplement may alter the way a chemotherapy drug is absorbed, distributed, metabolised or eliminated in the body by interfering enzymes and transporters across the cell membranes. Some of the chemotherapy and radiation therapy work by generating free radicals to damage cancer cells’ DNA. Hence, consuming antioxidant supplements can diminish such effect and cause therapeutic failure.
It depends on the type or agent of treatment and the patient. To avoid unwanted interaction during cancer treatment, one can separate antioxidants and interacting agents by at least four terminal half-lives of the cancer treatment. For example, oral Bleomycin which has a terminal half-life of approximately four hours, is unlikely to have a meaningful interaction after 24 hours whereas Doxorubicin whose terminal half-life is more than 24 hours would be vulnerable to interference the next day or longer.
Supplements may augment or affect the beneficial effects of one another. Pharmacists ensure that the additional supplements will not cause any unwanted interaction with the medication being prescribed. Pharmacists will also analyse your drug history to ensure that the supplement taken on top of medicine prescribed are well suited to your health and condition.
Many supplements are now available for purchase online. However, many are not registered under the MOH. It is important to consume supplements that are registered and approved by MOH as the registered supplements are evaluated and tested for its efficacy and safety before granting approval to introduce to the market. Every registered supplement product is given a registered number starting with MAL, to be printed on its label. Counterfeit or adulterated products which are not registered may put your health at risk
Being diagnosed with cancer is not the end of your life. A healthy diet, moderate exercise as well as reduced physical and psychological stress are crucial tips to stay healthy during your cancer fighting journey. Patients should be cautious that vitamin and mineral supplements as they are not substitute therapies for established medicine. And last but least, always Stay Positive, Stay Fighting!