These emerging strategies can combat “chemo brain,” fatigue, anxiety, insomnia—even recurrence!
There’s no doubt about it: Receiving a cancer diagnosis is scary.
But I’m convinced it’s not necessarily the disease itself that people fear most. (After all, heart disease is still far deadlier than cancer… killing more people globally, year after year.)
I think it’s the conventional cancer treatments of chemotherapy and radiation. Because these often leave patients feeling sicker, weaker, and more anxious.
I mean, just enduring them often requires you to put your entire life on hold! Then, far too often, patients are faced with long-term side effects of these grueling treatments.
Well, I’ve talked before about some exciting treatment advancements that can help patients avoid this conventional “cut, poison, burn” approach. But the truth is, these options might be the path you—or a loved one—choose.
If that’s the case, I have some good news.
Because emerging research shows there are some helpful strategies to combat the ill-effects of chemotherapy and radiation, including “chemo brain,” fatigue, anxiety, and insomnia.
And by adopting these strategies, you can SIGNIFICANTLY reduce your risk of suffering a cancer recurrence! I’ll share more details in just a moment.
But first, let’s back up and talk about what you should do before agreeing to ANY type of cancer treatment…
Personalize your treatment plan
Regardless of whether your treatment plan involves surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy, or more—it’s important to ask lots of questions.
Far too often, oncologists follow old-fashioned, “cookbook” recipes for everyone in their practice diagnosed with your type and stage of cancer.
But personalized and precision medicine—tailored to your individual cancer type, personal goals, and concerns—is an achievable goal in 2023!
First, talk with your doctor about exactly what you can expect to experience. Because for many, living longer isn’t always worth it if you’re going to feel miserable every single day.
In fact, studies show increased survival time isn’t the only concern for people diagnosed with cancer. And most patients expect to maintain their quality of life and reach personal goals for them to consider a treatment truly “successful.”
Second, ask if there are any biomarker tests or genomic tests for your type of cancer. These use tumor tissue analysis to gauge the cancer’s aggressiveness. They can even tell you how responsive it will likely be to drug therapy, which is crucial information to help guide treatment decisions.
In fact, in many cases, knowing about your biomarkers can even spare you from undergoing unnecessary treatments! (They can also help you find suitable clinical trials, as some enroll people based on their cancer biomarkers.)
Let’s look at non-small cell lung cancer as an example. There’s a good biomarker test that looks for changes to the EGFR gene (a gene involved in cell growth and survival). The results can highlight whether EGFR mutation is driving your lung cancer, which can then guide your doctor in finding the right treatment option for you.1
There’s also a genomic test called Oncotype DX, which I order a lot for breast cancer patients in my own practice. (Medicare now also covers it.)
I use it so often because it helps pinpoint who might actually benefit from aggressive breast cancer treatment—and who might be better off without it.
In fact, in a recent study, researchers used the Oncotype DX test to analyze the activity of 21 different genes in women with early-stage, hormone-positive breast cancer in order to predict their recurrence risk over the next decade.2
Next, they zeroed in on women whose tests showed they had an intermediate recurrence risk and separated them to two groups. One group received chemo and endocrine therapy (like tamoxifen), and the other received endocrine therapy alone.
It turns out, chemo didn’t make any difference for women over 50 years with an intermediate recurrence risk on the Oncotype DX test.
So, if you’re over 50 and have been diagnosed with hormone-positive breast cancer—make sure to ask for this test before agreeing to a “standard” treatment of chemotherapy. Depending on your results, you may be able to skip it after all!
Now that we’ve gone over how to personalize your treatment plan, let’s turn our attention to the treatments themselves…
Understanding chemotherapy and radiation
Each year, more than one million cancer patients receive chemotherapy or radiation.3 And while both methods target cancer cells, they’re used in different ways…
For example, chemotherapy is a systemic treatment that enters the body through the bloodstream. It attacks and destroys all the fast-growing cells—and it can go after cancer almost anywhere in the body.4
Your doctor may also prescribe chemotherapy to:
- Shrink a cancerous tumor before surgery or radiation
- Treat cancer that has spread (metastasized) beyond where it first started, such as to a lymph node or other organs
- As a treatment on its own, if your cancer is very sensitive to it (as with blood cancers)
- Try to stop an aggressive cancer from recurring in the future after surgery or radiation
By comparison, radiation (like surgery) usually targets one focal area of cancer—such as a tumor in the breast, prostate, or lungs. It can be applied via an external beam of high-energy light or injected internally with small, radioactive seeds or pellets.
Though their delivery methods differ, both chemo and radiation kill “healthy” cells along with cancer cells. This can result in significant side effects, such as:
- Hair loss
- Skin changes
- Bladder issues
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Trouble concentrating or remembering things
Fortunately, as I mentioned earlier, there are some proven and effective ways to significantly lessen these gruesome side effects…
Combat the ill-effects of conventional treatment
While no one looks forward to going through chemo or radiation, there are things you can do to help you feel more like yourself during treatment.
First and foremost, I encourage you to get plenty of exercise and sleep, as they’re both essential to your well-being and recovery. You should also find ways to manage your stress and anxiety, such as practicing some yoga or meditation, getting a massage, engaging in talk therapy, or gardening.
Of course, adopting a healthy, Mediterranean-style diet is also essential…
This simple, wholesome diet features high-fat, low-carb foods—like lean protein, fresh produce, and nuts. And it will give you all the energy and nutrition you need to endure your treatments. You should also aim to cut out all sugar and processed carbs, which fuel cancer cells.
In fact, if your platelet levels start to drop during your treatment, that means it’s high time to get really serious about your diet… including cutting out ALL sugars and carbs, especially.
In a recent study, researchers asked a small group of cancer patients with low platelet levels to follow a ketogenic diet. It’s similar to the Mediterranean-style diet, as it’s high in healthy fats and protein. But it STRICTLY LIMITS sugars and carbs.
It turns out, after just seven days of following this sensible diet, men and women BOOSTED their platelet counts to within safe levels!5 It was so successful, in fact, that the researchers think all chemotherapy patients should follow it preventatively.
And I quite agree. After all, by cutting out all carbs and sugar, you DEPRIVE cancer cells of the fuel they need to grow!
Now, let’s discuss what you can do to combat a side effect reported by the vast majority of chemotherapy patients…
Clear the “mental fog”
Getting through chemotherapy is tough on your body. But it’s also incredibly tough on your brain.
In fact, a staggering 75 percent of chemotherapy patients experience something called “chemo brain.” And about 33 percent of them continue to struggle with it after treatment ends!6
Chemo brain is a sort of “mental fog” that impairs a patient’s cognitive function. Symptoms can include:
- General forgetfulness
- Trouble remembering words, dates, names, and phone numbers
- Difficulty concentrating and multitasking
- Taking longer than usual to finish routine tasks, such as paying bills
Of course, we don’t know exactly what causes chemo brain, but are learning more about what can help…
In a recent study, U.S. researchers followed about 600 women with breast cancer before, during, and after receiving chemotherapy.7
Specifically, they asked the women detailed questions about their activity levels and their cognitive function. They also gave the women cognitive testing at different points during the study.
Overall, they found a very strong link between physical activity levels and cognitive function.
In fact, women who performed 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each week—and kept up this routine before, during, and after chemotherapy—had the BEST cognitive performance across the board.
On the flip side, women who never reached those weekly exercise goals had the WORST cognitive performance before and after chemotherapy.
Of course, physical activity has benefits that go way beyond just helping cognition. For example, we also know it helps cancer patients reduce fatigue, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
And best of all, cancer survivors who regularly engage in physical activity have a much lower risk of their cancer returning than their inactive peers!
In fact, in one recent study, researchers found that getting some regular exercise IMPROVES your risk of recurrence from some common cancers—including breast, colon, and prostate—by as much as 40 percent!15
In other words, even though your cancer treatments may leave you feeling depleted and exhausted—both physically and mentally—exercise really is the best medicine!
In the end, I hope this sensible approach to dealing with a cancer diagnosis will help squash some of the fear you, or a loved one, are feeling.
Most of all, I hope it empowers you to ask questions, demand personalized treatments, and take steps to feel more like yourself during treatment.
For additional guidance, I encourage you to check out my online learning program, my Essential Cancer Protocol. To learn more about this educational tool, or to enroll today, call 1-866-747-9421 and ask for order code GOV3Z400.
- “Biomarker Testing for Cancer Treatment.” National Cancer Institute, accessed 2/6/22. (cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/biomarker-testing-cancer-treatment)
- “Most women with a common type of early-stage breast cancer can skip chemo, a new report finds.” Washington Post, 06/03/2018. (washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/most-women-with-common-type-of-early-stage-breast-cancer-can-skip-chemo/2018/06/03/8a666228-5f63-11e8-9ee3-49d6d4814c4c_story.html)
- “Information for Health Care Providers.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed 2/8/23. (cdc.gov/cancer/preventinfections/providers.htm)
- “When you might have chemotherapy.” Cancer Research UK, 6/11/20. (cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/treatment/chemotherapy/when-you-might-have-chemotherapy)
- “High fat ketogenic diet envisioned as potential life-saving therapy to combat low platelets in cancer patients.” Medical Xpress, 12/29/22. (medicalxpress.com/news/2022-12-high-fat-ketogenic-diet-envisioned.html)
- “What Is Chemo Brain?” Cedars-Sinai Blog, 5/25/19. (cedars-sinai.org/blog/chemo-brain.html)
- “Physical Activity May Lessen the Effects of Chemo Brain, Study Finds.” National Cancer Institute, 8/26/21. (cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2021/physical-activity-cognitive-function)