10 Ways to Improve Quality of Life During Breast Cancer Treatment

  • Woman smiling
    You have resources to help you during treatment.
    If you’re being treated for breast cancer and feel a bit lost or adrift, you’re not alone. It’s not uncommon for women undergoing treatment to need help finding the most effective strategies for improving their quality of life. You have many options that can help you feel better, calmer, more optimistic, less fatigued, and perhaps even stronger. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.





  • Woman and doctor
    1. Keep in contact with your healthcare team.
    One of the most important things you can do is to communicate with your healthcare team. Let them know if you develop any new symptoms or if your existing symptoms worsen. Give them a call if you’re having problems eating, keeping food down, or staying hydrated. Talk to them about your pain medication. And don’t be afraid to tell them if you’re feeling lonely or scared and want to talk to someone. Your healthcare team may be able to adjust your treatment regimen or provide other types of support to you.



  • Woman with home nurse
    2. Ask about palliative care.
    First, let’s clarify something: palliative care is NOT the same thing as hospice care. Hospice care is end-of-life care. Palliative care is designed to improve a person’s quality of life during the entire course of treatment for a serious illness—to reduce pain or relieve symptoms and stress associated with the disease. Many cancer centers have palliative care specialists on staff, so ask if you could visit with one.



  • Woman biking
    3. Stay active.
    In the past, healthcare experts urged people undergoing cancer treatment to avoid exercising. Not anymore. According to the American Cancer Society, staying as physically active as possible can help you feel and function better during your breast cancer treatment. Exercise can reduce your fatigue levels and improve your mood, too. If you’re new to regular exercise, talk to your doctor about where to begin, and be sure to start slow and take frequent breaks if you need them.



  • Senior yoga
    4. Try yoga.
    You’ve started walking, or biking, or swimming. Now, consider adding yoga to your repertoire. As with other complementary therapies, yoga cannot cure your cancer, but it can help you feel better. Yoga can help reduce your blood pressure and heart rate, which can reduce your stress levels and make you feel more relaxed. It may also lessen some of the fatigue that often accompanies cancer treatments, according to recent research. Talk to your healthcare team about the best type of yoga to try, as some versions are more strenuous than others.



  • Compression garment
    5. Don a compression garment.
    For many people, an unpleasant side effect of cancer treatment (specifically, surgery or radiation) is lymphedema. Lymphedema is swelling that occurs when lymph fluid builds up in the fatty tissues right under your skin. Your oncologist may suggest a number of strategies for relieving the discomfort, including elevating the affected body part or doing simple stretching exercises. Another easy strategy is to use a compression garment, a type of tight-fitting sock or sleeve that can help reduce swelling.



  • Breast cancer support group
    6. Join a support group.
    Sometimes, it really helps to talk with someone who knows exactly what you’re going through—and how you’re feeling. Breast cancer support groups offer an opportunity to connect with other people who are undergoing or have undergone treatment. You can ask questions, vent, get help and maybe even make a few friends. Your oncologist’s office should be able to connect you with a local group, or there may be one affiliated with your medical center. You may feel drawn to a group organized by a professional, or you may feel more of an affinity for a group led by a breast cancer survivor.



  • Woman on laptop
    7. Find an online community.
    Maybe joining a support group isn’t your cup of tea. Perhaps you’re shy, or you don’t like large groups of people. Or you just don’t feel up to attending a meeting in person right now. An online support group may be more appealing to you. A growing number of social media platforms now exist specifically for people with cancer—including some breast cancer-specific networks.





  • Woman relaxing on sofa
    8. Try progressive muscle relaxation.
    Having cancer is an inherently stressful experience. Progressive muscle relaxation is a simple but effective stress reduction technique that you can practice just about anywhere, anytime. You can sit or stand, as long as you’re in a comfortable position. Tense the muscles in your toes, hold for a few seconds, then release. Gradually work your way up your body, through your legs, your abdomen, your fingers, your arms and your face. Take deep slow breaths during the process, and feel the stress melt away.



  • Tai Chi
    9. Consider qi gong or tai chi.
    Many people with breast cancer have found relief in various complementary medicine therapies in addition to their regular treatment regimen. For example, you might consider trying gentle forms of martial arts that emphasize a mind-body connection and flowing, fluid movements, like tai chi and qi gong. The stretching associated with these practices can help strengthen your body and enhance your balance, and you may feel calmer and less fatigued afterwards. However, as with any complementary therapy, be sure to check with your healthcare provider first.



  • Woman writing in journal
    10. Write it down.
    Some research suggests that journaling can help women with breast cancer process their feelings and even experience fewer physical symptoms. Whether you keep a paper journal or write on a blog, putting your feelings into words can be a very therapeutic action. You can express your frustration or fears or even your biggest hopes and dreams. You can set goals or make plans. You don’t have to show it to anyone—it’s all about expressing yourself however you’re most comfortable.



10 Ways to Improve Quality of Life During Breast Cancer Treatment

About The Author

Jennifer Larson has more than 15 years of professional writing experience with a specialization in healthcare. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and memberships in the Association of Health Care Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Education Writers Association.
  1. For People with Lymphedema. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/lymphedema/for-pe...
  2. Montazeri A, et al. Quality of life in patients with breast cancer before and after diagnosis: an eighteen months follow-up study. BMC Cancer. 2008. http://bmccancer.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2407-8-330
  3. Palliative Care in Cancer. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/advanced-cancer/care-choices/palliative-care-fact-sheet
  4. Physical Activity and the Cancer Patient. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/treatment/survivorship-during-and-after-treatment/staying-active/physical-activity-and-the-cancer-patient.html
  5. Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Breastcancer.org. http://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/comp_med/types/muscle_relax
  6. Stagl JM, et al. Long-Term Psychological Benefits of Cognitive-Behavioral Stress Management for Women With Breast Cancer: 11-Year Follow-Up of a Randomized Controlled Trial. Cancer. Volume 121, Issue 11. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cncr.29076/pdf
  7. What Are the Best Yoga Poses for Breast Cancer Patients? Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. http://blog.dana-farber.org/insight/2016/04/what-are-the-best-yoga-poses-for-breast-cancer-patients-infographic/
  8. Yoga. Breastcancer.org. http://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/comp_med/types/yoga
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Last Review Date: 2019 Apr 5
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