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Survive and thrive: 4 strategies to reduce your risk of cancer recurrence

For Phil Waigand, a cancer diagnosis wasn’t part of the game plan. Phil was living his dream running a therapeutic horseback riding program for people with disabilities when life came to a screeching halt after he noticed blood in his stool.

“I immediately made an appointment with a colorectal doctor at Baylor Scott & White in Dallas,” he said. “From there, I had a colonoscopy, they found cancer, and I went back in for colorectal surgery. It was my first stay in a hospital, so I was apprehensive, to say the least.”

Thanks to surgery and follow-up care, Phil is now cancer-free and doing everything he can to remain that way.

“During my treatment, I learned a lot about how to keep my body strong and healthy,” he said. “It is so important to stay positive and relaxed when battling cancer, so I turned to the things I love—my wife, Beverly, and music—and support groups to help me do just that.”

Many of the same evidence-based diet and lifestyle habits that help prevent cancer can also reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and enhance the quality of life for cancer survivors. Take a page from Phil’s positive mindset to create your own playbook for healthy living. Start with these four strategies—and then some—from the American Institute for Cancer Research.

1. Stay up to date on screenings

“After a diagnosis and treatment, the first thing you can do to stay healthy is to survey for early recurrence and to have the exams recommended by your doctor,” said Roberto Rodriguez-Ruesga, MD, a colorectal surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center.

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This holds true for people who have never had cancer, too. Early diagnosis is a significant factor in successful treatment, so don’t skip out on screenings like colonoscopies, mammograms and pap smears. If you have a family history of cancer, ask your doctor if you could benefit from early screenings.

“Family history may increase the risk for a diagnosis, so we typically recommend that patients start screening 10 years before the age at which their relative was diagnosed,” Dr. Rodriguez-Ruesga said. 

2. Clean up your diet

If most of the food you eat is grab and go, it’s time for a meal makeover. Opt for colorful foods rich in fiber, nutrients and cancer-protective natural phytochemicals found in plants.  

“A low-fat, high-fiber diet that is based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and good fats, eaten regularly, can help lower your risk,” Dr. Rodriguez-Ruesga said.

Along with a well-balanced, primarily-plant-based plate, the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends you:

  • Limit or avoid red and processed meat
  • Skip the junk food and sugary drinks
  • Consume less alcohol, if any

3. Stop smoking

Tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death in the US, accounting for roughly one in five deaths each year. About 30 percent of all cancer deaths and 81 percent of all lung cancer deaths are related to smoking, according to the American Cancer Society.

“Quitting smoking is so important for cancer prevention,” Dr. Rodriguez-Ruesga said.

It’s never too late to quit. The sooner you stop smoking, for good, the more significant the health rewards.

4. Maintain a healthy weight

Aside from not smoking, keeping your weight within a healthy range is the most important step you can take to protect yourself from cancer and other chronic conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Losing even a small amount of weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise can boost your health. To start:

  • Choose smaller portions overall, but bigger proportions of plant-based food at every meal
  • Drink mostly water and unsweetened beverages
  • Walk more, sit less

There’s no guarantee that eating right and staying active will prevent cancer. Still, the research on the recommendations above is clear: the more you take charge of your health, the lower your cancer risk and the better your outcome after a cancer diagnosis.  

It’s always a good idea to consult your doctor about any lifestyle changes. Find a doctor near you today.

Survive and thrive: 4 strategies to reduce your risk of cancer recurrence