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Role of Nutrition

Role of Nutrition to Manage the Side Effects of Cancer Treatment

Nutrition is starting to play a significant role in the treatment and management of cancer. There is more to a cancer diet than just getting enough calories and protein. The foods you ingest also help you cope with managing the side effects of cancer and consequently help in improving the quality of life.

As each person’s medical profile and diagnosis is different, so is their reaction to treatment. The side effects may be severe, mild, or absent; however one should discuss with their respective cancer care team of any possible side effects of treatment before the treatment begins.

Some of the common side-effects during cancer treatment are:

Blood Related Problems:

  • Low Red Blood Cell Count (Anaemia)
  • Low White Blood Cell Count (Neutropenia)
  • Fever
  • Infections      
  • Low Platelet Count (Bleeding)
  • Blood Clots

Bowel and Bladder Issues:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Bladder and Bowel Incontinence
  • Urine Retention

Eating and Drinking

  • Dehydration and Lack of Fluids
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Mouth Sores and Pain
  • Mouth Dryness or Thick Saliva
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Taste and Smell Changes
  • Swallowing Problems
  • Weight Changes

Emotional, Mental Health, and Mood Changes

  • Anxiety
  • Distress
  • Depression

Benefits of good nutrition during cancer treatment: Role of Nutrition

A diet prescribed during cancer treatment can be very different to what you’re used to consuming, based on your side-effects, treatment protocol and other factors such as co-morbidities or taste changes as well.

 During cancer treatment, you might need to change your diet to help build your strength and withstand the effects of the cancer and its treatment. This may mean eating things that aren’t normally recommended when you’re in good health. Quite often, chemotherapy has a significant impact on the digestive system, which in turn, affects nutrition absorption. If the right amount of nutrition is not going into the bloodstream, then the body will feel fatigued, the immunity will be suppressed, and this can lead to malnourishment. Hence the effects of the drugs will be even more severe. 

It’s vital to consume the right nutrition during treatment. While it’s a difficult task for most patients, due to the common effects of drugs such as nausea, vomiting and taste changes, smaller quantities and higher calories are recommended.

Here are some practical tips that can be helpful:

  • Eat meals slowly.
  • Eat small portions of food frequently. Having some food in your stomach may help you feel better.
  • Low-fat, bland and salty foods usually work best. Avoid greasy, fried and strongly spiced foods.
  • Cool, clear beverages are recommended. Drink liquids between meals, rather than with meals. Slowly drink or sip liquids throughout the day – a straw may help.
  • Keep crackers at your bedside if nausea is a problem in the morning or after a nap.
  • If vomiting is frequent, drink and eat more potassium and magnesium-rich foods when feeling better. Potassium-rich foods include bananas, potatoes, orange juice, tomato and apricots.
  • If constipated, try including high-fibre foods, such as kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, fresh fruits, vegetables and dried fruits in your diet. Also include some fibred in each of your meals.
  • Increase calories by adding nuts, seeds, avocados, puddings, cooked cereals, dried fruits, etc.
  • Increase protein by adding whole eggs, milk, chicken, fish, tofu, soya, etc.
  • Include probiotic-rich foods that help improve gut health and nutritional absorption, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and fermented foods (idles).

The impact of nutrition during cancer treatment is proving to be an integral part of the treatment by decreasing the side effects and improving response to treatment. Therefore, it’s imperative that a trained clinical nutritionist is consulted for the right plan.

References:

https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects.html

https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/diet-for-cancer-treatment-side-effects

https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/nutrition-and-coping-with-cancer-symptoms .

https://www.indiancancersociety.org/cancer-information/pdf/eatwell.pdf

Indian food ideas for cancer patients during chemotherapy

https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/diet-for-cancer-treatment-side-effects

https://www.mayoclinic.org/documents/mc1604-37-02fal-pdf/doc-20078857

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/cancer/cancer-diet-foods-to-add-and-avoid-during-cancer-treatment

https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-clinics/cancer-nutrition-services/during-cancer-treatment/nutrition-during-chemo.html

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