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Self Care Measures with Cancer

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

Self-care measures help you cope with cancer and its treatment. The measures are used in addition to your healthcare provider's treatment and care.


Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have new or different chest pain.
  • You have new trouble breathing.
  • You feel like hurting yourself.

Seek care immediately if:

  • You feel like you have broken a bone.
  • You have stomach pain that does not go away.
  • You have severe nausea with vomiting.
  • You have any bleeding.

Call your doctor or oncologist if:

  • You have pain that does not go away after you take medicine.
  • You feel too tired to do your normal daily activities.
  • You have no appetite.
  • You cannot pass gas.
  • Your legs or ankles are swollen.
  • You have new or worsening symptoms.
  • You feel more sad or worried than usual.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Lifestyle changes to help manage your symptoms:

Lifestyle changes may help protect you from getting sick and decrease your symptoms.

  • Rest as needed. Slowly start to do more as you feel stronger.
  • Prevent infections. Your cancer or treatment may decrease your immune system and increase your risk for 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.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat, fish, whole-grain breads and cereals, nuts, and cooked beans. You may need to try certain foods to see which are easiest for you to eat. It may also help to eat small meals that are high in calories and protein every few hours instead of 3 large meals. Examples include meat, fish, cooked beans, and eggs. Avoid foods that have strong odors. If possible, let someone else prepare meals. Try to avoid being around the smell of food until it is time to eat. If you need to lie down right after you eat, use several pillows to keep your head high.
    Healthy Foods
  • Drink liquids as directed. Liquid helps prevent dehydration. Your healthcare provider can tell you how much liquid to drink each day, and which liquids are best for you. Drink liquids between meals instead of with meals so you do not get full too quickly.
  • Try to be active during the day. Even a little activity can increase your appetite. Activity may help improve your mood and decrease your fatigue and anxiety. Activity can also help prevent or manage constipation. Ask your healthcare provider about the best activity plan for you.
    Walking for Exercise
  • Keep a record of what you eat and drink, and your daily activity. Include the amount you had, and if it caused any symptoms. Also include how long you were active each day. Describe your energy level. Bring the record with you to follow-up visits.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking increases your risk for new or returning cancer. Smoking can also delay healing after treatment. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help quitting.
  • Limit or do not drink alcohol as directed. Women should limit alcohol to 1 drink each day. Men should limit alcohol to 2 drinks each day. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.

Physical and occupational therapy:

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.

Follow up with your doctor or oncologist as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

For more information and support:

  • 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:

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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.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.