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Self Care Measures with Cancer


What are self-care measures? Self-care measures are things you can do to help cope with cancer and its treatment. They can be used in addition to your caregiver's treatment and care.

What changes should I expect when I have cancer? Your symptoms will depend on what type of cancer you have. They may also depend on what treatments you get.

  • Fatigue: You may feel tired most of the time. This may make it more difficult for you to do your normal daily activities.

  • Pain: This may also affect your daily activities and make it difficult to sleep. You may need to take medicine to help decrease pain.

  • Nausea and vomiting: This may be caused from the treatment you receive.

  • Weight loss: The cancer or your treatment may cause you to lose weight. Treatment may change how food tastes and smells. You may not want to eat because of nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

  • Bowel movements and urinating: Cancer treatment may cause you to have diarrhea or constipation. It may also cause you to urinate more frequently or to not be able to control urination (incontinence).

  • Mood changes: You may have changes in how you feel about yourself and others. You may become worried, nervous, sad, or angry.

  • Loss of sleep: Emotions, body symptoms, or treatments may make it difficult to sleep.

What changes to my diet should I make when I have cancer? Diet changes will depend on what type of cancer you have and what treatment you receive. Changing the food you eat and how often you eat may help decrease symptoms, such as fatigue.

  • Drink plenty of water: Drink at least 8 glasses of water daily, unless your caregiver says you need less or more. This may help prevent you from feeling sick to your stomach, dizzy, or tired.

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods: Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Several small meals throughout the day may help decrease fatigue and help you get plenty of nutrition. Your caregiver may suggest that you drink high-nutrition drinks, such as protein shakes.

  • Eat foods with omega-3 fatty acids: Your caregiver may want you to eat foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids. They can be found in foods such as fish and walnuts.

  • Eat foods high in fiber: These include beans, whole grains,

  • Avoid vitamins and mineral supplements: Vitamins and minerals may cause your treatment not to work as well. Do not take vitamins or minerals unless your caregiver says it is okay. Ask your caregiver which foods contain the types of vitamins and minerals that you need.

What lifestyle changes should I make when I have cancer? Lifestyle changes may help protect you from getting sick and decrease your symptoms.

  • Avoid infection: Your cancer or treatment may decrease your immune system and increase your risk of infections. Do the following to protect yourself:

    • Wash your hands often: Use soap and water. Wash your hands after you use the bathroom, change a child's diapers, or sneeze. Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food. Use germ-killing gel to clean your hands when there is no soap and water available.

    • Avoid others who are sick: Try to avoid people who have a cold, the flu, or a rash.

    • Make sure your food is safe: Be careful when you touch raw meat, fish, chicken, and eggs. Cook all food until it reaches the right temperature. Choose food carefully at restaurants. Do not eat from a salad bar. Do not eat sushi or other raw food. Do not drink water from a well.

  • Limit alcohol: Women should not have more than 1 drink each day. Men should not have more than 2 drinks each day. Ask your caregiver if you should drink alcohol at all.

  • Do not smoke: If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. Smoking may make your symptoms worse. Ask your caregiver for information if you need help quitting.

  • Exercise regularly: Ask your caregiver about the best exercise plan for you. Exercise may help improve your mood and decrease your fatigue and anxiety.

  • Get plenty of rest: Rest is important for your recovery. Slowly start to do more as you feel stronger.

What types of therapy may help me? Therapy may help you adapt to changes caused by your cancer, symptoms, and treatment. A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength and to decrease pain. An occupational therapist teaches you skills to help with your daily activities.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • American Cancer Society
    250 Williams Street
    Atlanta , GA 30303
    Phone: 1- 800 - 227-2345
    Web Address:

  • National Cancer Institute
    6116 Executive Boulevard, Suite 300
    Bethesda , MD 20892-8322
    Phone: 1- 800 - 422-6237
    Web Address:

When should I contact my caregiver? Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have pain that does not go away after you take medicine.

  • You feel too tired to do your normal daily activities.

  • You do not feel like eating.

  • You cannot pass gas.

  • Your legs or ankles are swollen.

  • You have new symptoms or your symptoms get worse.

  • You feel more sad or worried than usual.

  • You have questions or concerns about your cancer, treatment, diet, or care.

When should I seek immediate care? Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You feel like hurting yourself.

  • You feel like you have broken a bone.

  • You have stomach pain that does not go away.

  • You have new or different chest pain.

  • You have new trouble breathing.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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