How to Survive Cancer

Cancer is often described as a "battle" where you have to "fight" to survive. But since the "fight" is never fair, how does someone diagnosed with cancer ensure the best outcome for themselves?

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a time of great stress and anxiety. It can be overwhelming, and you may be unsure of the next steps to take. There can be so many unknowns, so developing a plan after diagnosis is an important step to take to ensure you get the best treatment for you.

This article will review things to think about after being diagnosed with cancer, to help guide you as you process the news and work towards healing.

Young ethnic mom with cancer holds her daughter
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See an Oncologist

This point may seem obvious to many, but it’s important to cover. Seeing an oncologist (a healthcare provider who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer) is the best way to get the right treatment for your cancer.

There are also different types of oncologists. A medical oncologist most often manages and coordinates your care. If you have radiation therapy, you may see a radiation oncologist. Cancer surgery is often done by a surgical oncologist. If you have gynecological cancer, seeing a gynecological oncologist may be necessary.

If you're unsure which oncologist to see, your primary care provider may have a suggestion. Additionally, online resources such as The American Society of Clinical Oncology can help you find the right oncologist.

Find a Specialist

Now that you plan on seeing an oncologist, where do you begin? Your first step may often involve choosing a cancer treatment center rather than an oncologist. Cancer treatment usually involves a multidimensional approach, and cancer centers are a good resource for a cancer care team.

Ask your healthcare provider where they would go if diagnosed with similar cancer. Talk to friends and your family. Connecting with an online cancer community is another excellent way of learning which centers are most active in treating your particular type of cancer.

After looking at what is available, compare the locations of these centers to the regions of the country where you would be most comfortable receiving your care. If you see an oncologist out of state it does not necessarily mean that you will need to receive all of your care there. Some oncologists at the larger cancer centers may recommend specific treatments that can be delivered at a center closer to your home.

Your insurance company can be another source of information. Check-in with your insurance carrier to see what oncologists they cover in your area.

Get Another Opinion

Sometimes people feel uncomfortable asking for a second opinion, but don't let the fear of being uncomfortable keep you from seeking one. Getting a second opinion can help you feel more educated and confident in what treatment is best for you.

National Cancer Institute centers may be a good place for a second opinion, as these centers are selected for their commitment to finding new and effective treatments for cancer.

Educate Yourself

Taking the time to educate yourself about your cancer can help you feel more empowered and in control of your treatment. Ask a lot of questions when you visit your healthcare team.

The amount of information and support for cancer patients is astounding. Free educational materials, emotional support, financial aid, assistance with insurance issues, help with your physical appearance, and dietary recommendations are some of the resources available to you. One of the more comprehensive online resources is the National Cancer Institute.

Seek Support

Support from family, friends, and the cancer community is a very important part of cancer care.

Studies examining the effects of social relationships on illness and mortality have shown that strong social bonds improve survival for various conditions. Looking at cancer alone, a large study found that high levels of perceived social support were associated with a 25% lower risk of death.

Allowing your friends and family to help you is an important step, but it can also be helpful to interact with others who are facing a similar diagnosis.

Take Care of Yourself

Eating healthy and staying physically active not only lower your cancer risk but also increase your chances of surviving cancer and keeping it from returning.

You don't need to train for a marathon to benefit from exercise. Even mild physical activity that's fun, such as gardening twice a week, helps improve outcomes.

It's fairly clear that a good diet reduces the risk of developing cancer in the first place, but as with exercise, we're learning that may make a difference for those with cancer as well. Check out these foods that may help fight cancer cells and why.

Developing good coping skills is an important skill to have while being treated for cancer. People may use different coping strategies and find what can help them improve their quality of life.

Commit To Your Treatment

Whatever treatment plan you and your healthcare provider agree on, stay committed to it. This includes following instructions your treatment team provides and sticking to the schedule. Y

If you're concerned about anything, talk to your healthcare provider about your feelings. Remember that many side effects can be managed, but to address these symptoms, your healthcare provider needs to know they are bothering you.

Be Your Own Advocate

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to improve your survival odds with cancer is to be an advocate in your cancer care. No one is as motivated as you to find possible solutions for treating your disease and managing the side effects.

Summary

Getting a cancer diagnosis can be a time of fear and uncertainty. Many things go into fighting cancer, but starting with the basics—such as finding an oncologist you feel confident in—is a good start. Educate yourself with reputable sources, and ask questions.

Finding healthy ways to cope with your stress and following a healthy diet and exercise regimen is beneficial in feeling your best and giving yourself the best opportunity to fight cancer.

A Word From Verywell

You will always be your biggest advocate, so take advantage of this when seeking cancer treatment and care. Never feel pressured to make decisions that make you uncomfortable, and ask as many questions as you need to until you feel comfortable with any plan your oncology team comes up with.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is it called when you survive cancer?

    Cancer survivorship starts when someone is diagnosed with cancer. Anyone who has a diagnosis of cancer can be considered a cancer survivor.

  • What is the chance of surviving cancer?

    The chance of surviving cancer depends upon the type of cancer someone is diagnosed with, and how advanced their cancer is.

  • What is the most common cancer to survive?

    The most common cancers to survive include prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and breast cancer.

Originally written by Lisa Fayed
7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  6. Rock CL, Thomson CA, Sullivan KR, et al. American Cancer Society nutrition and physical activity guideline for cancer survivors. CA Cancer J Clin. 2022;72(3):230-262. doi:10.3322/caac.21719

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