Well-being and recovery

Some people may want to make some changes to try and improve their overall health. These changes may help to reduce ongoing side effects or reduce the risk of some late effects. They may also help with other health problems and reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. You might already be doing these things for yourself but if not, you might want to:

  • try to give up smoking
  • eat healthily
  • keep to a healthy weight
  • keep physically active
  • reduce your risk of swelling in the legs (lymphoedema)
  • women may be advised to try some pelvic floor muscle exercises.

Ways you can help your recovery

After pelvic radiotherapy, you may want to think about ways you can help your recovery. Here we have some ideas for improving your overall health. Some of these suggestions may help to reduce any ongoing side effects, the risk of developing certain late effects, other health problems and some cancers. These are things you may always have done or are already doing for yourself.

If you smoke, get help to stop

Smoking increases side effects during radiotherapy, so the best time to stop is before you start treatment. But it’s never too late to benefit from giving up smoking.

Smoking makes ongoing side effects worse, increases the risk of developing late effects and makes any late effects more severe. For example, smoking increases bladder symptoms and makes problems with diarrhoea worse. It can also increase the risk of bone thinning (osteoporosis).

Giving up smoking is one of the healthiest decisions you can make. It can be hard to stop when you’re already feeling stressed, but there’s a lot of support available. If you want help and advice on how to stop, you can talk to your cancer specialist, specialist nurse or GP. You can also contact Smokefree (0800 022 4332, smokefree.nhs.uk).

Our information on giving up smoking has more tips.

Eat healthily

Eating healthily will help you feel better and give you more energy. In general, a healthy diet includes five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables every day and not too much red or processed meat. You can read more in our information on healthy eating and cancer.

However, after pelvic radiotherapy, some people may not be able to cope with as much fruit and fibre in their diet. If changes in your bowel habit are affecting what you can eat, let your cancer specialist or nurse know. They can refer you to a dietitian for advice.

Keep to a healthy weight

Being overweight is a risk factor for some cancers and other health conditions such as heart problems and diabetes. It also puts pressure on your pelvic floor muscles and your joints. You may find our information on weight management after cancer treatment helpful.

Keep physically active

Keeping active will help build up your energy levels. It will also help you to keep to a healthy weight, strengthen your bones and protect your heart. Regular physical activity reduces stress and can help you sleep better.

Walking is a good way of staying physically active. You don’t need any special equipment and you can gradually build up how much you do. There are lots of other types of physical activity you can try too. There’s more information on physical activity and cancer treatment.

Stick to sensible drinking guidelines

Current guidelines recommend women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week and have some alcohol-free days every week.

Alcohol can make any ongoing bladder and bowel side effects worse.

Reduce the risk of lymphoedema

If the lymph nodes in the pelvis are affected by radiotherapy, swelling of the leg or legs (lymphoedema) may develop. The risk of lymphoedema depends on the type of cancer you had and the treatment you received. Your cancer specialist or nurse can tell you if you’re at increased risk. If you are, it’s important to protect the skin on your legs and feet. We have some tips on how to do this in our section about lymphoedema.empty

Pelvic floor muscles in women

Pelvic floor muscles support the organs in the pelvis and are important for bladder and bowel control. Radiotherapy to the pelvis can weaken these muscles. They are also naturally weakened by childbirth, the menopause and getting older.

Some women are advised to do regular pelvic floor exercises after radiotherapy for a gynaecological cancer. It’s important to do pelvic floor exercises correctly, so you’ll usually be referred to a physiotherapist or nurse specialist who will teach you how to do them. The Bladder and Bowel Foundation has leaflets explaining how to do pelvic floor exercises.

Back to Pelvic radiotherapy explained

The pelvis

Information on the pelvic area of the body.

Fertility and pelvic radiotherapy

Pelvic radiotherapy can affect your fertility. This can be distressing but getting the right support can help you to find ways of coping.