Lifestyle Changes to Manage Melanoma
Lifestyle changes may not directly affect melanoma. But, they can play an important role in overall physical and mental health. Some benefits are:
- Help manage or lessen side effects of treatment.
- Keep your immune system strong to aid in the fight against melanoma or other illnesses.
- Improve your emotional outlook, so you can enjoy life to the fullest, even during treatment for melanoma.
- Lower the risk of other problems that could complicate your health.
Smoking slows healing and may cause problems related to melanoma treatments. Quitting smoking boosts your immune system and helps your body heal faster. Talk to your doctor about the best ways to quit.
Limit Ultraviolet (UV) Light Exposure
The most common source of UV light is the sun. Treatment makes your skin more sensitive to sunlight and its harms such as getting a sunburn. Limit how much time you spend in the sun. You can do this by:
- Cover skin with clothing, a wide brimmed hat, and a shirt. Be aware of sensitive areas such as the ears, feet, and top of the head.
- Sit in shaded areas.
- Do not go into sunlight during peak times. This is usually between 10 am and 4 pm in most areas.
- Use a sunscreen with broad spectrum sun protection factor (SPF) on skin that will be exposed to the sun. Your care team will help you find the right one.
- Wear sunglasses that block 99 to 100% of UVA and UVB rays.
- Do not use sun lamps or tanning beds.
Reduce Your Risk of Infection
Melanoma and its treatments lower the body's ability to fight off infection. Common infections, like a cold or the flu, can be more severe or take longer to bounce back from. To lower the risk of infection:
- Wash hands thoroughly and often. Hand washing is the best way to lower the chance of catching colds and the flu. Carry hand sanitizer for times when washing is not convenient.
- Try to stay away crowds, especially during cold and flu season.
- Avoid touching the eyes, mouth, and nose after touching surfaces or objects.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects often.
- Ask your doctor about the flu and pneumonia vaccines.
Make Dietary Changes
A healthful diet can help your body and mind. Making healthy choices gives fuel to help your body work at its best. It also gives your body nutrition to help heal it faster. Eating the right foods will also make you feel better and keep your weight in a normal range.
Melanoma and its treatments can make you feel less hungry. Make the most of the calories you eat. A dietitian can help you with common eating problems. They can also help you plan meals.
Exercise helps you keep your weight and supports the immune system. If you have not been exercising on a steady basis, check with your doctor to choose a safe program. Exercise has many benefits. It helps with:
- Your fitness
- Boosting your energy level
- Making the immune system work better
- Boosting your spirits and outlook
Talk with a trainer to help you set goals. They will also help you do it safely, especially when starting out. While adding exercise, be sure to balance it with rest.
Fatigue is the most common problem with melanoma and its treatments. To keep from getting overtired, work on tasks that need the most attention first. Allow others to help you with daily chores, shopping, and making meals. If needed, plan time to rest during the day.
Talk to your doctor if fatigue makes it hard for you to get through the day.
The diagnosis of melanoma is a life-defining event that can be hard to handle. It can be overwhelming to think and worry about treatment, changes, and uncertainty. Be sure to rely on family, friends, and other people in your life. People who allow themselves to seek help while they are recovering from melanoma can often have a better emotional balance. Other sources:
- Religious community
- Support groups for people with your type of cancer
- Professional support from social workers, psychologists, and/or psychiatrists who are trained to help support cancer patients and their families
Family and caregivers may also need support. Encourage them to seek support groups or counseling geared toward them.
Melanoma found in later stages makes it harder to treat. Some people choose treatments to help ease symptoms. Others choose to fully stop it. For some people, it may be realistic to start end-of-life planning. Aspects may include:
- Choosing home or hospice care
- Financial decisions
- Advance directives—includes legal issues, like wills, hospital orders for your care, and power of attorney for medical care and finances
- Insurance coverage
Talk your care team for guidance. You can be referred to a trained professional to guide you through the process.
- Melanoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115302/Melanoma. Updated March 26, 2019. Accessed May 8, 2019.
- Stay healthy. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/healthy.html. Accessed May 8, 2019.
- Sun protection. Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: https://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection. Accessed May 8, 2019.
- Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
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