Boost your immune system during cancer treatment

Boost your immune system during cancer treatment

Cancer treatment like chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy can compromise your immune system. That’s because it can affect your white blood cells (among other cells), which fight infection in the body, says Sandy Pyle, RN, oncology nurse navigator at the Loran Smith Center for Cancer Support at Piedmont Athens Regional. Many people undergoing cancer treatment are also put on steroid treatments, which can affect immunity as well.

How to prevent illness during cancer treatment

There are many ways to protect your immune system, whether or not you are undergoing cancer treatment. Pyle recommends:

  • Good nutrition. “Eat a nutrient-packed, well-rounded diet,” she says. “No pill or supplement can take the place of good nutrition. Eating the whole rainbow of fruits and vegetables will allow you to get the health benefits from as many antioxidants as possible.”

  • Plenty of sleep.Getting plenty of sleep as your body is going through treatment will help you heal,” says Pyle. Cancer treatments can cause you to have trouble sleeping, so practicing good sleep hygiene is essential. This includes going to bed at the same time every night and having a calming bedtime routine.

  • Stress reduction. Stress-reducing activities include meditation, journaling, yoga, prayer, spending time with a friend, reading or enjoying your favorite hobby.

  • Exercise.Exercise is really important during treatment,” she says. “If you’re feeling sluggish, moving more can help revitalize you and boost your immune system.”

  • Hand hygiene. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before touching your eyes, mouth or nose. “Our hands can transmit bacteria and viruses from surfaces like doorknobs,” she explains. “Caregivers should also wash their hands regularly.”

  • Food safety. “Have a conversation with your doctor to determine which foods you can safely eat. For example, you may need to avoid eating raw fruits and vegetables when your blood counts are really low,” she says, since some produce can be contaminated with bacteria. It’s also important to practice good hand hygiene, wash produce well, cook foods to proper temperatures and take other steps to avoid food poisoning.

  • Probiotics. While Pyle doesn’t recommend supplements in lieu of a healthy diet, she says a probiotic supplement can be beneficial for maintaining good gut health, which plays a role in your immune system. Talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.

  • Paying attention to your blood counts. If your white blood cell counts are low, says Pyle, avoid large gatherings, public spaces and spending time with people who are sick. “You can still connect with people via Skype, FaceTime or the phone, so you don’t have to isolate yourself completely,” she says. “Be mindful and know that these precautions are just for a season.”

  • Getting a flu shot. Talk to your physician about getting a flu shot. When you have a weakened immune system, flu symptoms can be much more severe.

“Start a conversation with your doctor about your immune system,” says Pyle. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Every treatment is different. Your doctor can tell you what you can do to boost your immune system and reduce your chances of getting sick.”

Learn more about cancer prevention, wellness and treatment.



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