Proper Nutrition Benefits Cancer Patients During Treatment
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Proper Nutrition Benefits Cancer Patients During Treatment

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Maintaining a proper diet is important when undergoing cancer treatments.

When going through a cancer treatment journey, there is a lot to think about from getting treatment to organizing transportation to appointments. 

One component to cancer care that has a tremendous impact on the patient is proper nutrition. During cancer treatment, it can be a challenge to maintain your normal intake of foods. 

Cancer patients frequently experience decreased appetite, change in taste, weight loss, dry mouth, nausea or fatigue when going through treatment. 

Ann Scott is a registered dietitian at UnityPoint Health - Finley Hospital.

UnityPoint Health – Finley Hospital Registered Dietitian Ann Scott said those side effects can also play a part in a patient’s meal intake, which is why support from loved ones is important during this journey.

“All of those side effects affect you being able to go out and purchase food, cook food and ultimately, eat food,” Scott said. “That’s why we want this to be a team sport, where you have people supporting you and with accurate information. The worst thing you can do, when having cancer, is feeling guilt for what you eat.”

While every cancer patient’s treatment plan varies, Scott said nutrition is another component of cancer treatment and has significant benefits for the patient. 

“The primary thing we want to think about with nutrition is that it’s one pillar of a patient’s treatment plan,” Scott said. “Besides radiation treatments and medicines, nutrition is an additional pillar that helps them thrive during their treatments. The body needs nutrition, because it helps feed the body while it’s trying to heal, recover from treatment and during the treatment.”

By eating well when being treated for cancer can present the patient with a wide array of benefits. Good nutrition can help the patient feel better, keep up strength, maintain your body’s weight and store of nutrients, better tolerate treatment-related side effects, lower your risk of infection, heal and recover faster.   

Key components to a proper diet for cancer patients include servings of proteins, fats and carbohydrates. 

Proteins, such as meat, eggs, beans and yogurt, allow the body to heal, including the skin and muscle tissue during treatment. 

Fats are needed as they help transport nutrients and maintain energy. 

Carbohydrates, in the form of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, are important. The provide a wealth of nutrients. 

It’s important for cancer patients to eat a variety of foods in their diet, but Scott said maintaining nutrition while fighting cancer isn’t so easy. 

“Nutrition and cancer can be very complicated,” Scott said. “If someone is doing OK and is able to eat a variety of foods, that’s great. Focus on vegetables, fruits, whole grains and proteins. If someone is so sick that they can hardly get out of bed, it’s hard to focus on eating. On those days, we look at eating and drinking whatever is tolerated. We want to strive for a variety of foods, only when able."

Even though there are diet recommendations for cancer patients, it’s important to remember that depending on how the patient is feeling, on a given day, may alter their meals for that day. 

Scott said the patient’s diet choices ultimately comes down to what they feel they can eat and keep down on a given day.

“When I see a patient that has lost 20 or 30 pounds during treatment, their immune system quickly becomes compromised, because they haven’t had enough energy or nutrition to maintain their weight,” Scott said. “It really comes down to what will help the patient maintain their body weight that day. there is no right or wrong food.”

At the Wendt Regional Cancer Center, patients are provided with an array of resources to help them in their cancer treatment journey. 

Scott said one of the challenges of cancer and nutrition is separating misinformation from accurate, reliable information. 

“Some people may inquire about supplements, because they may be advertised or believed to help cure cancer,” Scott said. “At the Wendt Cancer Center, we are here as a resource for people. We are here to answer your questions and give you the accurate, best practice, researched information.”

During a cancer treatment journey, it’s important for patients to realize that they are not alone. 

At the Wendt Center, staff is there every step of the way to help you overcome a cancer diagnosis. 

“We are going to walk through whatever they are going through with them,” Scott said. “All of the side effects a patient may have from cancer treatment that affects their nutrition – we are going to help them through it.”