Lifestyle Changes to Manage Stomach Cancer
by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
Lifestyle changes can be helpful in a variety of important ways:
Smoking is a known risk factor for stomach cancer. Although you may have already been diagnosed with stomach cancer, it’s not too late to stop smoking. When you quit smoking, you reduce your risk of stomach cancer’s many associated medical complications, which should improve your chances of withstanding the physical stresses of cancer and treatment. Also, since the immune system of smokers is generally less effective than nonsmokers, by quitting you may be adding to your immune system’s ability to battle against cancer.
Ask your doctor about programs to help you stop smoking, such as group support, hypnosis, and alternative nicotine delivery systems.
For more information on quitting smoking, click here.
Alcohol is a known risk factor for stomach cancer. Although you may have already been diagnosed with stomach cancer, it’s not too late to stop drinking alcohol. Stopping drinking will help you avoid other medical complications known to be caused by alcohol and will help your body be as strong as possible to withstand both the physical stresses of cancer and the various treatments.
If you have difficulty cutting back on your alcohol intake, ask your doctor about resources for help.
To decrease your risk of infection, avoid exposure to bacteria and viruses:
Eating a healthful diet may help you avoid other medical conditions linked to poor nutrition. Because cancer itself and some cancer treatment may have a dulling effect on your appetite, it’s important that you make the most of the calories you do take in. Furthermore, since stomach cancer has been associated with smoked, salted, and pickled foods, it would be wise to cut down on these as much as possible.
Strongly consider consulting a registered dietitian (RD) to help you learn more about the best kinds of foods for you to eat and how to eat other, less healthful foods in moderation. Your healthcare provider can refer you to a dietitian.
If you need to have surgery on your stomach (a partial or total gastrectomy), you will need to consult a dietitian to determine what kind of diet you can eat, and what kinds of vitamin and mineral supplementation you may need.
Avoid making drastic changes in your diet based on the latest fad diet or information that you have gotten form your local health food store, a neighbor, or your favorite magazine. For more information on eating a healthful diet, click here.
If you have not been exercising regularly, check with your doctor to determine a safe exercise program under your current circumstances. Exercise has many benefits that may help you withstand the physical and emotional stresses of cancer and cancer treatment:
You may consider consulting a personal trainer to help you set exercise goals and to safely follow through on initiating an exercise program.
For more information on starting a regular exercise program, click here.
The treatments for cancer can add to the fatigue you already feel from fighting cancer. In fact, fatigue is the most frequently experienced symptom of cancer and cancer treatments. The fatigue you feel can range from "just feeling tired" to complete and utter exhaustion. Wherever in this range you fall, you may find your fatigue quite distressing and affecting your quality of life.
It is important to allow your body time to rest. This will help your body have the strength to heal itself. Studies have shown a relationship between fatigue and an increased morbidity of cancer and cancer treatments as a result of fatigue's adverse effect on appetite, diminished quality of life, and loss of hope.
To help you avoid getting overtired, try not to do too much. Prioritize the things you need to do, and focus on the most important ones. Also, allow others to help you with daily chores, shopping, and preparing meals. Plan times throughout the day when you can rest.
For information on getting a good night's sleep, click here.
The diagnosis of cancer is a life-defining event that is difficult to handle for anyone. Facing the uncertainty of a serious disease, feeling anxious about how you will feel during treatment, and worrying about the impact of both the diagnosis and treatment can take a devastating toll that no one should have to tackle on their own. Give yourself permission to call on any helpful resources, including the following:
People who allow themselves to seek help while they are recovering from cancer can often maintain better emotional equilibrium, which will help them face the challenges of cancer and its treatment.
For more information on increasing your social support, click here.
When to Contact Your Doctor
It’s important that you don’t make major lifestyle changes without consulting your doctor and verifying that you are proceeding safely. You are already being physically and emotionally challenged by the presence of cancer and the rigors of treatment. You and your doctor can work together to make wise lifestyle choices and implement them in the healthiest way possible. Your doctor can provide referrals to an RD, personal trainer, therapist, and support group.
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Sleisenger and Fordtran’s Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 1998: 733-749.
What is stomach cancer? American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/ . Accessed December 2002.
What you need to know about stomach cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at http://www.cancer.gov/cancerinfo/wyntk/stomach . Accessed December 2002.
Last reviewed September 2012 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
Last Updated: 09/26/2012