How Cancer Patients Can Boost Their Immune System

Undergoing chemotherapy and radiation can weaken the immune system for some cancer patients, making them more vulnerable to illness and infections.

If you’re seeking ways to support your immune health during cancer treatment, we explore nine science-backed strategies to help maintain your immunity.

9 Natural Ways Cancer Patients Can Boost Their Immune System During Treatment

1. Eat A Healthy & Nutritious Diet

If you’re about to start immune checkpoint inhibitors (immunotherapy drugs), you should focus on a range of healthy foods, including a lot of fruits and vegetables. 

Cancer patients can have a weak immunity because of poor nutrition, making them vulnerable to infections. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain a healthy diet rich in vitamins, proteins, and healthy fats to meet your nutritional needs.

Cancer patients can also take the help of a nutritionist to develop an eating plan. Moreover, many foods and drinks contain germs that may cause infections. Therefore, it is important to wash raw vegetables and fruits before eating. 

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2. Sleep Well

Consistent and sufficient sleep is essential for a robust immune system. While aiming for around seven hours is a common guideline, individual sleep needs may vary. Quality sleep before, during, and after cancer treatment is crucial for maintaining immune function.

All types of cancer and even cancer treatments can be stressful to your immune system and interfere with sleep. 

If you’re having difficulty sleeping, consider implementing these steps:

  • Create a conducive sleep environment by keeping your bedroom dark, airy, and quiet.
  • Establish a consistent sleep schedule, aiming to sleep and wake at the same time daily.
  • Avoid overeating before bedtime, as heavy meals can disrupt sleep.

3. Observe Proper Hand Hygiene

To support your immune system in combating cancer, avoid places with a high risk of germ exposure. As cancer treatments can compromise immunity, maintaining rigorous hand hygiene is crucial.

Make sure you wash your hands with warm water and soap regularly to reduce your chances of getting sick. Ensure proper hand hygiene by regularly washing your hands with warm water and soap, especially:

  • After using the washroom.
  • Before and after food preparation.
  • Before touching your face.
  • After interacting with sick individuals.
  • Before meals.
  • After handling garbage.

You can also use alcohol-based hand sanitizer to protect your hands from germs. Showering and bathing regularly are also necessary. 

4. Get Moving

You can help your immune system function well with the positive effects of exercise. You might be wondering if exercising is good for cancer patients. 

Exercise is safe for many people with cancer. You can also talk to your doctor about what type of exercise and how much is suitable for you. 

There will be many types when you’re not recommended to exercise. The following are some situations when it is not a good idea to work out:

  • Low white blood cell count.
  • Anemia (low red blood cell count).
  • Ataxia (poor muscle coordination).
  • Extreme fatigue.
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5. Report Symptoms Of Infection As Soon As Possible

If you suspect any of the following symptoms, you should immediately consult your cancer team:

  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Fever and chills
  • Changes in mental status
  • Cough
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Swelling or redness in any part of the body.

Early interventions of these signs will reduce the risk of complications and help you recover faster. 

6. Reduce Stress Levels

Daily stress is very common among cancer patients, and it is not good for their health. Very high levels of stress hormones affect the body’s ability to defend itself and suppress immune function. 

Healthy lifestyle choices can help cancer patients overcome stress to optimize the function of the immune system. 

Stress can also be managed in the following ways:

  • Talking to a mental health professional
  • Listening to relaxing music
  • Meditation
  • Reading a book 
  • Massage therapy
  • Deep breathing

7. Avoid Unhealthy Foods And Drinks

There’s no doubt that unhealthy and refined foods can weaken your immune system. Unhealthy fats, refined sugars, processed and charred meats, and alcohol intake are highly restricted for cancer patients undergoing immunotherapy and other treatments. 

Cancer patients looking for an immune system booster are therefore advised to get smart about choosing healthy foods to support their immunity. 

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8. Avoid Contact With People Who Have An Infection

It is important for cancer patients to avoid spending time with people who have flu, fever, or other infections. 

You should:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water every time you touch a person or surface.
  • Avoid spending time in the same room as people with an infection.
  • Avoid sharing products of personal hygiene. 

9. Receive The Flu Vaccine Every Year

Cancer patients are recommended to get an annual flu vaccine to prevent contraction from the flu virus that weakens the immune system. 

Cancer patients should receive the flu vaccine between their chemo cycles or before receiving immune checkpoint inhibitors. Also, it is crucial to talk to your doctor about which vaccines are safe and authorized. 


Chemotherapy can significantly affect your body’s ability to fight infections and the strength of your immune system. Taking proactive steps and modifying your lifestyle can optimize your immune system during immunotherapy and other treatments.

Lastly, avoiding contact with sick people is of utmost importance – contracting seasonal flu or bacterial infection is the last thing you need during your cancer treatment.

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  2. Walker WH, Borniger JC. Molecular Mechanisms of Cancer-Induced Sleep Disruption. Int J Mol Sci  2019;20.
  3. ROGERS LQ, COURNEYA KS, SHAH P, DUNNINGTON G, HOPKINS-PRICE P. Exercise stage of change, barriers, expectations, values and preferences among breast cancer patients during treatment: a pilot study. Eur J Cancer Care (Engl) 2007;16:55–66.
  4. MEHNERT A, LEHMANN C, GRAEFEN M, HULAND H, KOCH U. Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and health-related quality of life and its association with social support in ambulatory prostate cancer patients. Eur J Cancer Care (Engl) 2010;19:736–45.
  5. Curtis R Chong, Vivian J Park, Bevin Cohen, Michael A Postow, Jedd D Wolchok MK. Safety of Inactivated Influenza Vaccine in Cancer Patients Receiving Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors. Clin Infect Dis 2020;70:193–9.

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