• By Laurel Kelly

Consumer Health: Life after cancer

June 2, 2022
a smiling young Asian woman with shaven head representing cancer patient after chemo therapy

National Cancer Survivors Day will be observed Sunday, June 5, which make this a good time to learn more about life after cancer.

One in 3 people will be diagnosed with cancer, and more than 16.9 million cancer survivors are alive today, according to the American Cancer Society. Survival rates are improving for many types of cancer, thanks to advances in cancer screening and treatment.

Many cancer treatments take a toll, though, in the form of side effects and permanent changes. As a cancer survivor, here are some things to consider.

Improve your long-term health

Beyond your initial recovery, you can take steps to improve your long-term health so that you can enjoy the years ahead as a cancer survivor.

The healthy living recommendations for cancer survivors are the same as the recommendations for anyone else:

  • Exercise.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get good sleep.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Avoid tobacco.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.

These healthy lifestyle strategies can improve your sense of well-being, enhance your quality of life and smooth your transition into survivorship. Learn more about what you can do to take care of yourself after cancer treatment.

Late side effects of cancer treatment

As more people are living longer after cancer treatment, more is becoming known about late side effects of cancer treatment. These are side effects of cancer treatment that become apparent after your treatment has ended.

Late effects of cancer treatment can come from any of the main types of cancer treatment: chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation, surgery, targeted therapy and immunotherapy.

Cancer survivors might experience late effects of cancer treatment years later. Not everyone who has cancer treatment gets each of the late effects, and some people might not experience any late effects of treatment. It isn't clear whether late effects are preventable or why some people might experience late effects while others don't. 

Learn more about late and long-term effects of cancer treatment so that you can take more control of your health as a cancer survivor.

Managing your emotions after cancer treatment

As a cancer survivor, you may have mixed emotions about completing your treatment plan. Though you, your friends and your family are all eager to return to a more normal life, it can be scary to leave the protective cocoon of health care professionals who supported you through treatment.

Fear of recurrence is common among cancer survivors. Though they may go years without any sign of disease, cancer survivors say the thought of recurrence is always with them. You might worry that every ache or pain is a sign of your cancer recurring.

Lingering feelings of sadness and anger can interfere with your daily life. Feeling as if others can't understand what you've been through can lead to loneliness, and the urge to make up for lost time can cause stress.

All of these feelings are normal and common. Recovering from cancer treatment isn't just about your body. It's also about healing your mind. Learn more about managing your emotions after cancer treatment.

A circle of support

Your friends and family can provide an important circle of support. Navigating relationships can be a challenge for cancer survivors transitioning to life after treatment, though. Changes to responsibilities and roles during your treatment can upset dynamics within relationships. Differing emotional responses and expectations can be upsetting.

One way for cancer survivors to prepare for relationship difficulties is to expect these problems and plan accordingly. Learn more about nurturing your relationships and reconnecting with loved ones after treatment.

Life after cancer

A cancer diagnosis can change your life forever. It's important to remember that each person finds their own way of coping with the emotional and physical changes cancer brings.

Connect with others talking about life after cancer in the Cancer: Managing Symptoms support group on Mayo Clinic Connect, an online patient community moderated by Mayo Clinic.