Nutrition is important for good health and a vital component to the healing process. Eating the right kinds of foods before, during and after cancer treatment can help the patient feel better and stay stronger. A healthy diet includes eating and drinking enough of the foods and liquids that have the important nutrients which the body needs. Examples of these nutrients are vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, fat and water.
Medical Nutrition therapy is used to help cancer patients get the nutrients they need to maintain their body weight and strength, keep their body tissue healthy, and help to fight infection before, during and after cancer treatment.
Eating habits that are good for cancer patients can be very different from the usual healthy eating guidelines, and optimal nutrition can help patients deal with the effects of cancer and its treatment.
Studies show that most cancer treatments work better when the patient is well nourished and gets enough calories and protein in the diet. Cancer patients who are well nourished can have a better chance of recovery and an overall better quality of life.
A Registered Dietitian can help the patient improve side effects of cancer treatment such as:
- loss of appetite
- mouth sores/dry mouth
taste changes, and weight loss/weight gain.
Dry mouth is marked by an exceptionally parched mouth, often caused when salivary glands become irritated or damaged, leading them to make less saliva or saliva that is thick or sticky. A cancer patient may experience this side effect, also known as xerostomia, when taking certain prescription or over-the-counter medications, when undergoing chemotherapy, or after radiation treatments that target the head or neck area. Because saliva serves so many important functions, dry mouth may lead to a range of other symptoms, including increased thirst and hoarseness and an increased risk of oral infection and tooth decay. Other potential complications include altered speech, changes to taste or smell, difficulty swallowing and indigestion. Any of these side effects may impact patients’ overall eating and drinking habits and nourishment
Dry mouth may cause chewing and swallowing difficulties. Dietitians may educate patients on how to modify food textures to make the foods easier to eat. Recommendations may include eating soft, moist foods, incorporating liquids, and avoiding dry, coarse foods, avoiding alcohol and smoking. Dietitians may also offer recipes for homemade shakes, smoothies or other forms of liquid nutrition, suck on ice chips or frozen fruits, drink about 8 cups of water daily, that are tailored to the patients’ specific nutrient needs to ease dry mouth symptoms and complications.
Loss of Appetite
Loss of appetite is marked by a reduced or lack of desire for food. Appetite loss is common among cancer patients, and may be directly caused by cancer, particularly cancers of the gastrointestinal tract like stomach and pancreatic cancers, as well as ovarian and lung cancer. A loss of appetite may result from a condition called “cachexia,” or a metabolic change caused by the cancer itself, which can also be complicated by cancer treatments. Many anti-cancer drugs and treatments, such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation therapy treatments that are focused on the stomach and intestines, are also linked to a loss of appetite. Side effects that disrupt the gastrointestinal tract may prompt a loss in appetite, too. These include dry mouth; mouth sores; issues with chewing or swallowing; and constipation. Pain, fatigue and depression may also lead to loss of appetite. If left unchecked, appetite loss may lead to serious weight loss and wasting of muscle marked by loss of strength, as well as compromised immune function. Weight and muscle loss may also lead to increased treatment toxicity, as well as treatment interruptions and/or delays.
Consuming enough nutrients to maintain good nutritional status may be difficult for cancer patients if they don’t feel like eating. Dietitians may recommend scheduled eating times, instead of relying on hunger-based cues, which may be blunted or absent. Dietitians also work with patients’ medical oncologists to recommend appetite stimulants, if appropriate. If loss of appetite is caused by nausea, altered taste, mouth sores or pain, nutrition recommendations may include modified consistency of foods and liquid nutrition that are well tolerated and easy to ingest. Dietitians may also recommend vitamin and/or mineral supplementation to make up for deficits in the diet. Additional supplements that contain fish oil or eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, may help correct underlying changes in metabolism. Patients may be prescribed a feeding tube or intravenous feeding for additional nutritional support. Dietitians regularly reassess patients’ response to other interventions and communicate with the care team if this type of nutritional support is needed. They will also provide education and monitoring to help patients manage these feedings.
For more excellent information on nutrition in blood cancer patient, check out the following useful resources: