Diet and exercise are very important for gastrointestinal cancer survivors. They can improve your quality of life and your digestive health while reducing your risk for cancer recurrence. Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center experts highly recommend creating a diet and exercise plan for survivorship and losing any excess weight that you carry.
Our registered dietitians provide specialized support for cancer patients. They can help design a meal plan that is right for you and teach you strategies to help with digestion after gastrointestinal cancer treatment.
Colorectal Cancer Survivors
As a cancer survivor, it’s important that you eat a nutritious diet so you can improve your health. You should strive for a diet that is:
- High in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Low in red meat and saturated fats
- Includes nuts, beans, and fish as main sources of healthy fats
- Low in sugar, soft drinks, and simple carbohydrates like white bread
If you are overweight or obese, you should also eat a diet that allows you to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
Colorectal cancer survivors may have trouble absorbing nutrients since part of your digestive tract has been removed. Your doctor or dietitian may recommend that you take certain supplement pills to help your body receive the vitamins and minerals it needs. Always ask your doctor before taking a new supplement.
You may also be able to help nutrient absorption and avoid digestive problems by eating smaller, more frequent meals or chewing your food more thoroughly.
Pancreatic Cancer Survivors
After a Whipple procedure to remove your pancreas, you may have unpredictable digestive issues. You may need to avoid certain foods that cause diarrhea or other problems and focus on eating a healthy diet. Your dietitian may recommend a diet that you avoid high-sugar, high-fat meals and even avoid eating too much fiber at once.
Your doctor may also prescribe pancreatic enzymes. These enzymes help your body digest food properly and prevent digestive problems after your surgery.
You may also see improved digestion by eating 5 to 6 smaller meals each day instead of 3 large meals.
Gastric and Esophageal Cancer Survivors
Gastric and esophageal cancer survivors can face special digestive issues such as dumping syndrome, in which sugary foods move too quickly through the digestive system, or a feeling of fullness after even small meals. They may be more likely to lose too much weight.
A registered dietitian can help you avoid these issues by designing a diet that consists of high calorie, small meals that contain little sugar and high amounts of fiber. You should also avoid drinking too much with meals, as this can fill you up. Your dietitian or doctor may also help you find supplements that ensure you receive all the nutrients you need.
You should strive to exercise for 30 minutes every day. Even a moderate level of exercise, such as going for a walk, can have big effects on your health and wellness. Exercise can have benefits such as:
- Higher energy level and less fatigue
- Improved digestion
- Weight loss or maintenance
- Fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression
- Reduced risk of cancer recurrence
Through the eight-week U Survive & Thrive program, physical therapists and trainers help you safely recover from treatment and regain your strength. Continuing to work on your physical fitness after the program is over can help you maintain your health long-term.