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Good Nutrition : The Fifth Pillar Of Cancer Treatment Good Nutrition

Cancer happens due to the uncontrolled growth of the cells that are the basic building blocks of the body. Having cancer is often an ugly experience at the time of diagnosis followed by a lot of pain, suffering, and heartbreak at the end. Despite significant advances in cancer research and management over the past few decades it still remains a leading cause of death worldwide. It is estimated that by the year 2030 there could be 27 million people with cancer translating to more than 17 million cancer deaths each year. A multimodality treatment approach in the form of surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy (the four pillars) either alone or in combination is often used for the successful management of cancer.

Nutrition for Cancer Patients

Good nutrition is an essential part of cancer treatment. During cancer treatment, a patient needs a variety of nutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates, fat, water, vitamins, and minerals not only for maintaining general well-being but also for boosting the body’s immune system for ensuring better tolerability. The recommended nutritious diet for a cancer patient comprises a mix of the following foods:

  • Whole grain breads and cereals
  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Milk and milk products
  • Meat/fish or legumes (avoid red meat and processed meat)
  • Fat (not more than one tablespoon of oil a day)
  • Plenty of fluids such as 100% fruit or vegetable juices (pasteurized), coconut water, tea, coffee, water, soft

All forms of cancer treatment are associated with undesirable side effects that can limit one’s ability to eat. These include loss of appetite (anorexia), sore mouth or throat, dry mouth, changes in taste or smell, nausea and vomiting, indigestion and heartburns, diarrhoea, constipation, fatigue, etc. Let’s discuss the nutritional strategy to deal with these side effects one by one.

Loss of appetite (anorexia)
  • Eat frequent small meals and snacks throughout the day rather than having 3 large meals
  • Eat high-calorie (e.g., butter, cream, salad dressings, jelly, jam, honey, etc.), and high-protein (e.g., cheese, milk, yogurt, eggs, meat, poultry and fish, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds, soya products, etc.) foods at each meal and snack
  • Drink high-calorie, high-protein beverages such as milkshakes
  • A walk or light exercise before meals could be a good strategy to increase the appetite
  • Consult your doctor in extreme cases
Sore mouth or sore throat or chewing and swallowing problems
  • Eat frequent small meals and snacks to meet the daily basic calorie requirements
  • Consume soft foods or liquid supplements
  • Cut food into small pieces or grind them so that less chewing is required
  • Avoid eating spicy, salty, and acidic food or food with extreme temperatures
  • Keep the mouth clean with frequent mouthwash and gargles
  • Consult your doctor in extreme cases
Dry mouth
  • Eat soft and moist foods
  • Avoid eating dry and crunchy food
  • Drink 8-10 cups of liquid a day
  • Use mouthwash regularly, especially after every meal
  • Consult your doctor in extreme cases
Changes in taste or smell
  • Consume shakes, ice cream, or yogurt blended withfresh fruits
  • Consume lemonade
  • Take sugar-free lemon drops, gums, or mints
  • Take flavoring foods with new tastes or spices
  • Avoid red meats
  • Keep the mouth clean with frequent mouthwash and gargles
Nausea and vomiting
  • Eat small portions of meals slowly and more frequently
  • Eat low-fat, bland (e.g., mashed potatoes, rice, yogurt, cereals, etc.) and salty foods, and avoid weet, fried, or spicy foods
  • Consume cold and clear beverages (e.g., apple or cranberry juice, ginger ale, soups, etc.)
  • Avoid foods with strong odors or cooking smells
  • Avoid eating or drinking anything until you have the vomiting under control
  • Eat potassium-rich (e.g., bananas, potatoes, orange juice, tomatoes, apricots, etc.) and magnesium-rich (e.g., almonds, cashews, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, spinach, etc.) foods
  • Consult your doctor in extreme cases
Indigestion and heartburns
  • Eat small portions of meals slowly and more frequently
  • Avoid eating spicy, fried, fatty, and acidic food or food with extreme temperatures
  • Avoid consumption of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco
  • Consult your doctor in extreme cases
Diarrhoea
  • Drink plenty of liquids (e.g., tea, fruit juices, electral powder, ginger ale, probiotics, etc.) at room temperature to avoid dehydration
  • Eat frequent small meals
  • Eat potassium-rich foods (e.g., bananas, potatoes, orange juice, tomatoes, apricots, etc.)
  • Avoid eating spicy, fried, fatty, and acidic food or food with extreme temperatures
  • Avoid eating high-fiber foods (e.g., kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, fruits, and vegetables, etc.) and instead consume low-fiber foods (e.g., yogurt, rice, eggs, white bread, cottage cheese, etc.)
  • Avoid milk and ice creams
  • Consult your doctor in extreme cases
Constipation
  • Take high-fiber foods (e.g., whole grains, bran cereals, fruits, and vegetables)
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Reduce consumption of caffeine
  • Include a walk or light exercise in your daily routine
  • Consult your doctor in extreme cases
Fatigue
  • Include a walk or light exercise in your daily routine
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Do not eat sugary foods
  • Include some protein, fat, and fiber in each meal/snack
  • Make sure to meet your daily basic calorie requirements
  • Consult your doctor in extreme cases

If a patient is not eating well and as a result losing weight, more proteins and calories need to be added to the diet to help stop the weight loss. On the other hand, conscious efforts must be made to maintain a healthy weight for a patient whose weight is within the normal range during the treatment. The intake of red or processed meat should be limited to small quantities. A diet low in dietary fiber and calcium as well as sugary drinks and processed foods (high in added sugar, low in fiber, or high in fat) should be avoided as far as possible.

The nutritional requirement of cancer patients may vary from one to another and therefore the treating doctor and a dietician/nutritionist can help identify the nutritional goal of an individual patient. Having cancer is nothing to be afraid of and by taking an active role in the treatment of this aggressive disease one can improve his/her chances of survival along with a better quality of life.

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