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Nutrition During Cancer Treatments

Nutrition During Cancer Treatments

By Crystal Brown-Tatum

When diagnosed with cancer, the dietary goals for most healthy Americans can drastically change; especially during and after cancer treatments such as surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. There are many side effects to cancer treatments which may affect your appetite including loss of appetite, changes in taste and smell, dental and gum problems, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea and lactose intolerance.

Colon cancer survivor Linda Dotie realized that nutrition was vital during treatment. Despite losing twelve pounds during chemotherapy and radiation, she forced herself to eat even when she had little or no appetitite. “I made a conscious effort to eat a balanced meal. I began reading a lot about what I could and should eat.”

Since Dotie was being treated for colon cancer, she avoided red meat and increased her chicken and fish intake. She also found that fresh fruits upset her stomach so she avoided them.

Nutrition recommendations for cancer patients are different because they are designed to help you build your strength and help you withstand the effects of your cancer and your treatment. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the main goal before, during, and after treatments is to maintain adequate calories for weight maintenance and adequate protein to optimize your immune system, strength, and tolerance to treatments.

Dr. Alan Grosbach and Diane Talley, RN, OCN, of Feist-Weiller Cancer Center, confirm that cancer patients face unique challenges with diet and appetite; particularly during chemotherapy. Dr. Grossbach says that keeping a line of communication open with patients is key to identifying nutritional deficiencies.

“In addition to a visual assessment and weigh in schedule, I make it a point to talk to patients about their diet and appetite. I’m also on the lookout for types of cancer which more often cause lack of appetite such as liver or intestinal cancers.” Grossbach says that the most common complaint during chemotherapy is that foods taste different and textures may be unpleasant.

In addition to changes in taste, mouth sores are a common complaint during treatment. Talley recommends a “magic mouthwash” of equal parts of maalox, benadryl, carfate, viscous lidocaine swished and spit out to relieve the pain associated with the sores. The mouthwash can be ordered through a compunding pharmacy.

Next to getting enough calories in the first place, the most important nutritional rule for people with cancer is to focus on getting a well-balanced, healthy diet from natural sources, including fruits and vegetables, with a heavy emphasis on protein. Patients can increase protein in their diets by eating more nuts, peas, milk, cheese, eggs, peanut butter and poultry.

Claudine Schmidt, M.S., LDN, RD, with Willis-Knighton Health System, works with patients on an individual basis to determine food plans based on types of cancer and treatments. “During treatment, healthy cells are damaged and protein is needed to repair the cells and tissues and aid in the healing process. An increased caloric intake is vital for energy as the metabolic rate increases during treatment.”

Schmidt acknowledges that there may be times when patients simply feel that they can not tolerate anything by mouth. In addition to ginger ale and waiting 45 minutes to have liquids after a meal, she suggests giving it your best attempt to eat something light as bananas, rice, applesauce, tea, and dry toast,; commonly referred to as the BRAT diet. The BRAT diet consists of foods that are relatively bland, easy to digest, and low in fiber.

Schmidt points out that cancers of the neck or mouth heighten a patient’s lowered appetite or ability to eat and recommends clear liquid nutritional supplements.

When you’re being treated for cancer, it’s more important than ever to eat a healthy diet and get good nutrition. Eating the right foods before, during, and after your treatment can help you feel better and stronger. Remember, your body is working overtime to fight the cancer and to repair healthy cells that may have been damaged as a side effect of treatments like chemotherapy and radiation.

Mrs. Crystal Brown-Tatum is the CEO and President of Crystal Clear Communications- a Houston based advertising agency and public relations firm with whose portfolio boasts work for Fortune 500 companies including Intel, Wal-mart, Comp USA, Best Buy and Audi. She is a one-year breast cancer survivor.

Comments by Rose Ragan

Crystal Brown-Tatum pointed out correctly that it is very important to get enough calories of the most natural source and especially during treatment as the metabolic rate increases. The trouble with consuming more good food is that the patient is used to eating certain foods and there is a definite correlation to health and eating patterns. So some if not most patients are not necessarily changing their diet for the better but are just trying to eat more of their existing diet/

Most cancer patients need to make some drastic changes in their diets. This is the time to find better ways of eating and changing what foods are actually consumed.

Adding in an easy supernutritious liquid is easy.

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