Nutrition and cancer
Good nutrition is significant for the proper growth and the overall health of any individual. The importance of nutrient-dense eating further heightens for a cancer patient. Both cancer and its treatment can negatively impact the way you eat.
Cancer and cancer treatment can affect your senses of taste, smell, appetite, and ability to absorb nutrients from the food. Thus, both these scenarios can leave you deprived of nutrition and cause malnutrition. A deficiency in proper nutrient intake can make you fatigued, compromise your immunity and hinder the treatment process.
Ensuring that you have sufficient nutrient intake can benefit you in several ways:
- Healthy weight management
- Improving the quality of life
- Maintaining strength
- Keeping the body tissue healthy
- Minimising the side effects of cancer treatment
- Maintaining energy levels
- Fighting infection
The goal of nutrition therapy is to help patients retrieve the maximum benefits of cancer treatment and improve the overall quality of life.
Effects on cancer treatment on nutrition
Different stages and protocols of cancer treatment affect nutritional needs and intake differently. Here’s how cancer treatment affects nutrition:
Chemotherapy is a medicinal treatment in which certain drugs are used to destroy the growth and spread of cancer cells. This treatment also exposures healthy cells to chemotherapy drugs including those of the mouth and digestive tract.
Chemotherapy may, hence, cause problems with eating and digestion. Side-effects of chemotherapy include:
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dryness in the mouth
- Soreness in the mouth or throat
- Aversion to food
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Feeling full soon after eating a small amount
- Constipation or diarrhoea
Certain hormones in your body support the growth of cancer cells. Hormone therapy is a cancer treatment that targets such hormones and stops or slows down their growth. This treatment may also affect the hormones that lead to weight gain.
Undergoing cancer surgery puts your body under strain and increases the need for nutrients and energy. Your body requires more than sufficient nutrients to recover from surgery, heal wounds, and fight infection. Cancer surgery may involve the removal of certain parts of the organs that support ingestion and digestion.
Common side-effects of cancer surgery include:
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble chewing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Feeling full after eating a small amount of food
Nutrition during cancer treatment
Every stage and type of cancer as well as its treatment method affects your nutritional demands differently. When starting cancer treatment, your oncological team will perform a thorough assessment of your nutritional needs during the cancer treatment.
Your healthcare provider will ask you about eating habits, take note of your medical diet history and weight changes. You will be informed about the expected diet changes through one-on-one counselling sessions. In addition to a detailed assessment, your doctor will also perform a thorough screening to identify health problems. Your oncologist will work closely with your dietician to design a tailor-made nutritional care plan.
Listed below are some nutritional guidelines for patients receiving cancer treatment:
- Ensure to eat all essential nutrients – Your diet chart should include some portions of all the necessary nutrients including proteins, vitamins, carbohydrates, and fat.
- Maintain a healthy body weight – While undergoing cancer treatment, you are required to keep a close watch on your body weight.
- Be active as much as possible – Cancer treatment can affect how much exercise you can do. It is, however, essential to remain active to help your body support cancer treatment.
Tips for treatment of the symptoms
There are various cancer symptoms and symptoms resulting from cancer treatment that impact your eating habits and nutritional intake. Based on the specific treatment, your healthcare provider will make necessary changes in your personalized diet plan.
Here are some tips to help you ensure proper nutritional intake while managing symptoms:
- Consume more liquids and fluids such as soup, herbal tea, and milk
- Add natural spices such as lemon, garlic, and rosemary if your food tastes bland
- Eat smaller portions of the food, more frequently.
- Try citrus fruits, chewing gums and mints to help minimise metallic taste in the mouth
- Consider low-dose dietary supplements
- Ensure the safety of food preparation and consumption
- Eat fully cooked foods
Nutritional guidelines after cancer treatment
Your cancer care further extends beyond the treatment. Your nutritional intake and requirements will be equally essential during recovery and after the cancer treatment. You will continue to receive nutrition therapy in your follow-up care.
Listed below are some nutritional guidelines after cancer:
- Eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
- Consider a plant-based diet
- Avoid smoking
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Minimize alcohol consumption
- Stay physically active
Proper nutrition is essential for cancer patients as it helps in managing cancer symptoms and coping with the side-effects of cancer treatment. Nutritional intake can help provide strength, maintain energy levels, improve the overall quality of life and manage weight changes.
During cancer treatment, some tips that can help you maintain your nutritional status include eating essential nutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates, fiber, and vitamins, maintaining a healthy weight and staying physically active.
Dietary supplements may be effective for patients seeking chemotherapy. Your healthcare provider will be the right person to help you decide whether protein supplements may be effective for your condition.