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Nutrition During Cancer

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Nutritional Therapy in Cancer Care

Nutritional Therapy in Cancer Care
It is important to understand that many cancer treatments may work better when patients are well nourished, meaning they get enough calories and protein in their diet. Surprisingly, patients who are well nourished may also have a better chance of recovery and a higher overall quality of life.1 Proper nutrition can also help to avoid cancer anorexia cachexia syndrome, which is the combination of both reduced food intake caused by anorexia and wasting syndrome due to cachexia, a wasting syndrome.2,3

Good nutrition provides a wealth of benefits
Even if an individual’s nutritional status may not be optimal when diagnosed with cancer, nutritional screening and the timely implementation of adequate nutritional therapies can substantially improve a number of different aspects. These include more effective chemotherapy and side effects, avoiding malnutrition, and maintaining health status as much as possible after treatment. It also helps to improve the overall quality of life while continuing to enjoy the pleasures of food and eating.1,3

Maintaining adequate nutritional status through therapy
Both patients and their caregivers need to be aware that the symptoms of cancer and side effects that affect eating and weight loss should be treated as early as they are recognized. Your doctor may be able to help increase appetite and prevent nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation, if these symptoms are experienced. It is also crucial to treat and prevent any mouth problems such as dry mouth, infection, and sores. Adequate treatment of pain is also essential to help patients eat better and maintain their quality of life as much as possible.2,3

Symptoms and side effects may occasionally be managed by a combination of dietary and pharmacologic approaches. In this regard, early intervention using appropriate nutritional and pharmacologic symptom-management strategies can help keep weight loss to a minimum. One easy-to-implement strategy is to monitor eating practices, which should be assessed continuously together with your doctor and nurse and should reflect the individual goals of nutritional therapy.2

Nutritional therapies are often aimed at preserving muscle mass and fat tissue. Sometimes, medications can be used to stimulate appetite and help weight gain if needed. Some can improve appetite by improving symptoms and side effects. The decision to use a medication should be based on the desires of the patient and overall medical conditions. Commonly used medications include antiemetic agents (effective in preventing nausea and vomiting), prokinetic agents (help control acid reflux), antidiarrheal agents, laxatives, pancreatic enzymes, pain medications, and agents for oral care (e.g. saliva stimulants, cleansing agents, antifungal agents, topical anesthetics, mouthwashes).2

Drugs used to stimulate appetite, manage weight control, and control side effects2

Antiemetic agents
Prokinetic agents
Antidiarrheal agents
Pancreatic enzymes
Pain medications
Agents for oral care

A holistic approach to balanced nutrition
In addition to an adequate diet, monitoring, medications as needed, one often overlooked component of a balanced lifestyle includes regular physical exercise. Structured exercise programs are in reality an important part of the management of many chronic diseases, including cancer.3,4

To explore the benefits of physical activity in cancer, please visit the next section on Staying Active with Cancer.


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