It is important to maintain proper nutrition before, during and after cancer treatments like radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy and surgery. These procedures and medications can cause many individuals to lose their appetite and energy, putting them at an increased risk for malnutrition. On the other hand, some cancer treatments may cause weight gain. The main goal of medical nutrition therapy is to keep body weight constant.
Early nutrition screening and assessment help to find problems that may affect how well the patient’s body deals with the effects of cancer treatment. Finding and treating nutrition problems early can help the patient to gain weight or prevent weight loss, decrease problems with the treatment and help recovery.
It is important to treat cancer symptoms and side effects that affect eating and weight loss early. Strategies for preventing weight loss can be identified as increasing appetite, helping food digestion, treating nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, preventing pain, treating mouth problems such as dry mouth, infection, pain and sores.
In order to minimize weight changes, heal properly and maintain the energy to cope with all the new challenges, a wide variety of high-calorie and high-protein foods need to be incorporated in patient management. Protein helps to ensure growth, repair body tissue and maintain a healthy immune system. Without enough protein, the body takes longer to recover from illness and will have a lower resistance to infection. People with cancer often need more protein than usual.
Nutrition needs are different for patients with advanced cancer. It is common that patients with advanced cancer want less food. Patients usually prefer soft foods and clear liquids. Those who have problems swallowing may do better with thick liquids than with thin liquids. Patients often do not feel much hunger at all and may need very little food.
In patients with advanced cancer, most foods are allowed. During this time, eating can be focused on pleasure rather than getting enough nutrients. Patients usually cannot eat enough of any food that might cause a problem. However, some patients may need to stay on a special diet. For example, patients with cancer that affects the abdomen may need a soft diet to keep the bowel from getting blocked.