Fitness after cancer: May'13

Yvonne Allan is one of our Dedicated Cancer Nurses. Here she answers your questions on fitness and diet after cancer.

jacqui asked: hi I was diognoised with breast cancer seven yr ago.The chemo has knackered the nerve endings in my feet so they are sore constantly and I have put a bit of weight on. I would really like to get back in to shape and eat healthy I am a fuzzy eater aswell never bn to keen on fruit and veg. please help as I really nd sum one to give me a day to day planner that I could try and stick to  
Yvonne Allan, Dedicated Cancer Nurse answered: Hi Jacqui, sorry to hear you're still having nerve problems after chemotherapy, this is unfortunately not uncommon. Losing weight may help this and although its important to eat fruit and vegetables if its not something you can include in your diet, you should get this through other foods or by adding in supplements. It may help you to join a group such as weight watchers for the added support and the structured advice about planning your meals each day? Combine gentle exercise to start off with, walking or swimming or gentle yoga is good. It may be worth speaking with your GP who can give you advice as well and may be able to give you a food sheet recommended by a dietician. Its important to get a good balance of carbohydrates/proteins/fibre and vitamins and minerals and to avoid processed foods such as takeaways and to be mindful about portion control. Your GP will be able to measure your BMI and recommend your ideal weight range. I hope this helps. Yvonne

fiona asked: Hi Yvonne - is there any truth to the reports that superfoods can help prevent cancer? And if so can they prevent it returning also?  

Yvonne Allan, Dedicated Cancer Nurse answered: Hello Fiona there has been a lot in the press about superfoods as its considered they mop up 'free radicals' which are involved in cellular damange and linked to the development of cancer. There is no established evidence as yet to confirm this but some foods have been identified. Its a better idea to concentrate on an overall good balanced diet rather on focusing on these particular foods.

Ruth asked: My friend's mum has had her ovarian cancer come back and it turns out that she carries the BRCA 1 gene. My friend hasn't been tested yet but her sister has tested positive so it's quite likely she'll be the same. Are there any recommended nutrition or fitness tips for those who are living with BRCA 1?

Yvonne Allan, Dedicated Cancer Nurse answered: Hello the BRCA1 gene is not something that can be prevented through diet or fitness but there are lots of things that can be done to reduce your chances of developing cancer. Being overweight, excess alchohol consumption and of course smoking all increase your likelehood of developing cancer so eliminating these are always a good idea. Ensuring you take regular excersise, eating a good balanced diet and checking any unusual (persistent) health symptoms is the best prevention or the key to early diagnosis of cancer.

Chelsey asked: What kind of routine is appropriate for someone whose body is recovering from chemo and radiation?

Yvonne Allan, Dedicated Cancer Nurse answered: Hello Chelsey it depends on the treatment and the persons overall fitness and health. Generally its about taking things at your own pace initially as although the body recovers quickly from the initial effects there are lasting effects especially fatigue. It's important to rest but gradually build up your activity to your usual routine. Gentle excersise is recommended, regular walking is good and something like a gentle yoga class. It's important not to push yourself too much as well once treatment is complete and allow time to recover.

Anonymous83 asked: What is a 'good diet' for someone currently undergoing both chemo and radiotherapy for cancer treatment? How can you stop losing too much weight?

Yvonne Allan, Dedicated Cancer Nurse answered: Hello unfortunately losing weight is common during treatment for a number of reasons such as sickness and fatigue. Making sure you are taking enough calories is important and eating what you feel like eating and not worrying too much about 'healthy eating'. If you find you are losing a lot of weight, please check with your specialist as they may need to refer you to a dietician. It's a good idea if your appetite is reduced to add high calorie foods to soups and drinks etc such as milk or cream to soup, grated cheese over beans or there are also supplements to add calories to foods that are tastless. Special high calorie drinks and soups are available that a GP or dietician can prescribe.

Anonymous83 asked: What's good to eat during the treatment of chemotherapy and radiation?

Yvonne Allan, Dedicated Cancer Nurse answered: Hello its important to eat little and often if your appetite is affected by treatment. Foods with a good fibre content to prevent constipation such as high bran cereals, wholemeal bread and fruit and vegetables. Avoiding lots of processed foods such as takeaways is better although understandably its difficult to prepare fresh foods when you're feeling unwell. Keeping a balance is sensible and ensuring a good vitamin intake through green vegetables, fish, white meat (reduced red meat) and eggs.


Brienne asked: I have had 2 of my siblings - 1 brother and 1 sister get different kinds of cancer - nose and stomach cancer respectively. But my parents did not have cancer. I wonder if it was because of our diet and lifestyle when we were growing up? We were from a poor family and ate a lot of preserved canned food with plain rice. What can I do to prevent myself from getting cancer too?

Yvonne Allan, Dedicated Cancer Nurse answered: Hello Brienne I'm sorry to hear about your siblings but please don't worry too much about your diet growing up. There have been lots of studies done relating to food and the risk of cancer and so far the only established link is high amounts of red and processed meat and the higher incidence of bowel cancer. Even if someones diet is not very varied , if you are active, dont smoke and dont drink to excess these factors alone reduces your risk of developing cancer. There is no one food (or food group) that can prevent cancer, it's all about a good balance.

Ben54 asked: I heard that a natural diet with lots of veggies and fruit juices such as carrots, apples and soursop are good for cancer patients. Also read that drinking steeping lemon grass steeped in hot water kills cancer cells. Is that true?

Yvonne Allan, Dedicated Cancer Nurse answered:
Hello Ben, its right that a diet high in fruit and vegetables is beneficial to maintain good health, not only for cancer patients of course. I would recommend to eat them in their natural form where possible rather than juices as sometimes lots of other ingredients are added, mostly sugar. I would keep an open mind about claims that things such as lemon grass will prevent cancer as this will not be something that is scientifically proven. If that was the case it would be readily available on the NHS and there would be no need for chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Alternative medicines can be appropriate but only when recommended by a consultant cancer specialist and not as an alternative to proven treatment.

Anonymous84 asked: I have a friend who had cancer. During that time when they were undergoing treatment, someone recommended them to buy the special 'juicer' for fruits and vegetables that claims to extract the best and all the nutrition, enzymes etc out, for better nutrition. She bought it and is using it.
I want to know - do those things really work?

Yvonne Allan, Dedicated Cancer Nurse answered: Hello a healthy diet should include a high amount of fruit and vegetables and having them in the form of juices is fine. It is said however that it is usually better to eat fruit in particular in their natural form as putting them through a juicer can change their structure and reduce the vitamin content. The main point is to include them regularly in your diet and if thats mainly in the form of juice, you will still get the majority of the benefit from them.

Heather asked: I've heard that eating microwaved meals can increase your risk of cancer due to the chemicals within the packaging leaking into your food when its cooking. Is this a cancer fact or fiction?

Heather commented: The food in question was actually popcorn!

Yvonne Allan, Dedicated Cancer Nurse answered: Hello Heather I believe there is some concern over plastic packaging and the chemicals used to soften the plastic leaking into any food that is then heated. There isnt any evidence as yet to a  link to cancer although some people feel it's enough of a concern to reduce the amount of food they eat in this way. I would say everthing in moderation and I think you can buy popcorn paper bags that can be heated in the microwave.

Anonymous84 asked: What forms of exercise are particularly beneficial to those recovering from cancer?

Yvonne Allan, Dedicated Cancer Nurse answered: Hello  there is no set recommendation for exercise as it depends on a number of factors. Keeping active through gentle exercise such as walking is a good idea but being active round the house is just as beneficial if someone is housebound as well. Some people find something like tai-chi very beneficial or yoga although some people will be able to get back to a sport they were heavily involved with prior to their diagnosis and as long as they feel well enough this is fine. Keeping generally 'active' is sometimes better than trying to achieve a certain amount of specific exercise.

AXA PPP asked: Thanks to everyone who joined our live chat today, and special thanks to our expert Yvone Allan.


If you missed our live chat and have any further questions on fitness and diet after cancer, then why not ask our panel of experts a question?


back to top

Sign up to our monthly Better Health newsletter to receive updates on our latest health and wellbeing articles.

Sign up to newsletter

Ask the expert

Got a question about health or wellbeing?
Our team of medical experts are ready to help.