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The Role of Nutrition in Cancer Treatment
Maintaining optimal nutrition during cancer treatment is essential to
keep you strong, enhance the effectiveness of treatment and ensure
that your treatment goes uninterrupted. Adequate nutrition and
prevention of malnutrition is very important during this time.
Your body needs more "fuel" than normal, because it will need to repair rapidly
from the effects of cancer treatments such as surgery, radiation and/or
chemotherapy. If you are unable to consume the fuel you need, your body
will soon draw upon what it has stored – fat and protein. When your body
uses stored protein, malnutrition and impaired functioning of your immune
system may result. Therefore, it is important to give your body a constant
supply of nutrients to use as fuel during the healing process. This supply
of nutrients includes calories from all macronutrients, including carbohydrates,
protein and fat.
Your nutritionist can develop a plan to help you nourish your body during
cancer treatment, and throughout the recovery process. Adequate protein, calories
and high-nutrient foods are essential during this time. Your nutritionist can also
focus on managing side effects of cancer treatment, recommend supplements to improve
your use of calories, and help find foods your body can tolerate.
Maintaining optimal nutrition can provide several benefits for people living with cancer, including:
Support immune function
Preserve lean body cell mass
Rebuild body tissue
Decrease your risk of infection
Improve strength and increase energy
Improve your tolerance to treatment
Help you recuperate faster after treatment
Improve quality of life
Strategies for Managing Nutrition Impact Symptoms During Cancer Treatment
Side effects of cancer treatment may make it difficult to maintain optimal
nutrition. The following are tips for staying nutritionally fortified
during cancer treatment:
Nutrition Tips for Coping with Nausea
- Eat small meals often and eat slowly
- Eat foods at room temperature or cooler; drink beverages that are cool or chilled
- Snack on dry foods (e.g., saltine crackers, toast) when you wake up
- Avoid foods that are fried, greasy, sweet, or spicy, or that have a strong odor
- Sit upright when eating and rest upright for at least one hour after meals
- Sip on clear liquids (e.g., water, broth, juice, popsicles) frequently to prevent dehydration
- Avoid eating in a room that is too warm, or that has cooking odors
- Rinse your mouth with baking soda and salt before and after meals (1 quart water, ¾ teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon baking soda)
- If there is a bad taste in your mouth, suck on hard candy (e.g., peppermint, lemon)
- Avoid drinking a lot of liquids during mealtime – it may make you feel full and bloated
- Avoid eating for one or two hours before a treatment
- Try bland, soft foods on scheduled treatment days (e.g., cream of wheat, chicken noodle soup)
- Avoid stuffy environments and restrictive clothing
- Try natural supplements, such as ginger capsules (ginger root beer) and peppermint extract
- Consider sea bands
- Ask your doctor about medications to ease nausea
Nutrition Tips for Coping with Constipation
- Eat high-fiber foods and drink plenty of fluids throughout the day
- Drink 8-10 cups of clear liquid a day (e.g., water, prune juice, warm juices, non-caffeinated teas, soup, popsicles)
- Eat a breakfast that includes a hot drink and foods high in insoluble fiber (e.g., bran cereals)
- Try drinking a warm liquid (e.g., soup, tea) 30 minutes before your normal time for a bowel movement.
- Try drinking ½ cup of warm prune juice
- Slowly add high-fiber foods to your diet (e.g., whole-grain breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables with skins/peels, beans, peas, raisins, dates and prunes). Always increase fluid when increasing fiber.
- Try eating at the same times each day to help regulate your bowel movements
- If gas becomes a problem, limit drinks and foods that cause gas (e.g., carbonated beverages, cruciferous vegetables and chewing gum). Avoid drinking with a straw
- If you feel up to it, and if your doctor permits, try to increase your physical activity (e.g., take short walks)
- If using an enteral formula, as in the case of a feeding tube, consider switching to a formula with fiber.
- Ask your doctor about medications to relieve constipation (e.g., some over-the-counter medicines include Senekot, Colace, Metamucil, Benefiber)
Nutrition Tips for Coping with Fatigue
- If you feel up to it, and if your doctor permits it, try doing some light to moderate exercise each day (e.g., take short walks)
- Plan your day to include plenty of rest (e.g., take several naps or breaks throughout the day)
- Don’t push yourself – save your energy for activities that are most important to you, and do shorter versions of your usual activities
- Be sure to meet your basic calorie needs and drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration
- Avoid eating foods high in sugar – you will get a quick boost, but be even more tired afterward
- Try eating snacks high in protein (e.g., nuts, cottage cheese, lean poultry, tuna, salmon, peanut butter, protein shakes)
- Check with your nutritionist or naturopathic practitioner about vitamin and mineral supplements
- Try using relaxation techniques to combat stress (e.g., deep breathing, meditation, visualization, music therapy, massage)
- Avoid long, hot showers or baths
Nutrition Tips for Coping with Diarrhea
- Drink lots of water during the day. Aside from water, try diluted fruit juices and broths. Drink warm or room-temperature liquids, never chilled
- Drink liquids 30 minutes after meals, not during meals
- Eat foods containing potassium (e.g., bananas, potatoes, diluted fruit juices, cooked vegetables)
- Eat foods containing sodium (salt) (e.g., broths, saltines, pretzels)
- Avoid drinking milk and eating foods that are made from milk until you feel better (these foods may make your symptoms worse)
- Avoid high fiber foods (e.g., whole grains, nuts, beans, raw vegetables, fruits with seeds/skins) until you feel better
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine
- Try laying down 30 minutes after meals. Rest may slow down the digestive tract
- Stop taking vitamin C temporarily
- Water soluble fiber supplements such as pectin (e.g. Sure-jell) may help form a firmer stool. Try adding Sure-jell to hot cereals, soups, or a banana smoothie with rice milk
THIS INFORMATION IS NOT MEANT TO REPLACE THE ADVICE OF A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL.
AS ALWAYS, YOU SHOULD CHECK WITH YOUR NUTRITIONIST AND YOUR DOCTOR ABOUT YOUR SPECIFIC NUTRITIONAL NEEDS.
Here are some sample questions to ask your doctor/dietitian during your cancer treatment:
- Are there any changes I should make to my current diet?
- Should I be taking a multivitamin or other supplement?
- How can I calm my nausea so that I am able to eat better? Are there any nausea medications and/or appetite enhancers I could take?
- Should I try a liquid meal replacement if I’m having trouble keeping food down? Do these provide enough of the daily nutrients I need? What kind do you recommend?
- What if I just don’t feel like eating much at all for a couple of days after treatment?
- If my oral intake is not adequate to meet my calorie and protein needs (and cancer treatment options are available), are there alternative nutrition interventions appropriate for me?
Nutrition at CTCA
At Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), we understand that
to fight cancer, you need to attack it from all angles, on all fronts.
That is why we offer a combination of traditional and complementary
therapies to treat the whole person, not just the disease. Our
integrative approach to cancer care includes nutrition as an
essential component of a comprehensive treatment plan. We believe
nourishing your body with healthful foods and a well-balanced diet
can contribute to the healing process.
Our Nutrition Team
The Nutrition Metabolic Support Team at CTCA is led by registered dietitians
who provide expert care for you through comprehensive nutrition assessment,
education and supplementation – with an emphasis on proactive nutrition intervention.
Our nutrition team communicates with your oncologist, as well as other CTCA departments,
including naturopathy, pain management, oncology rehabilitation, mind-body medicine and
spiritual support. When you first arrive at CTCA as a new patient, you will meet with
one of our dietitians who will provide you with an individualized,
comprehensive nutrition assessment and plan. Your dietitian is part
of your overall care team. This team approach allows you, your dietitian and
your oncologist to work together to develop a nutrition plan tailored to your
Your Treatment Plan
Our nutrition team aims to keep you strong and nutritionally balanced
so your treatment is not interrupted. As part of your treatment plan, your
dietitian will recommend dietary options specific to you and your treatment.
Our nutrition team also provides continued support through education, including
programs and classes on the relationship between a healthy diet and wellness.
Our goal for you is to prevent malnutrition, reduce side effects, promote
positive healthy eating habits, and enhance your overall well-being and quality of life.
I hope this information has helped you in some way. I will check in with you again next month. In the meantime, stay strong and hopeful.