Proper Nutrition Aids in Cancer Recovery

veggies and stock potGuest Bloggers: Mackenzie Souza, RD, LDN, and Elizabeth Lundy, RD, LDN, Dietitians, Cancer Center

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. There’s significant emotional, as well as physical, stress that comes with managing this disease, from receiving a diagnosis, reviewing treatment options, managing medications, and coping with symptoms.

Amid all this, managing nutritional needs can become challenging. There are countless books, news specials, magazine articles, and blog posts about food and cancer. Many of these make sensationalist claims but lack medical proof. It’s a registered dietitian that can help oncology patients and their families integrate good nutrition into their cancer care.

Why a Registered Dietitian and Not a Nutritionist?

Registered dietitians (RD) are health care professionals who specialize in a food and nutrition. They can translate the science of nutrition into real solutions for people based on medical conditions and individual needs. Nutritionist is a vague term but dietitians are licensed to legally practice after rigorous education and training. RDs incorporate current research and evidenced-based nutrition in collaboration with the medical team to maintain optimal nutrition throughout a patient’s continuum of care.

How Does Nutrition Affect Cancer?

Nutrition plays an important role throughout the course of cancer treatment. Both cancer and the associated treatments can make it challenging to maintain a nutritious diet by affecting appetite and changing how the body digests, absorbs and utilizes nutrients. Studies have shown that maintaining a good nutritional status throughout cancer treatment can improve clinical outcomes related to:

  • Immune functions
  • Lean body mass preservation
  • Strength
  • Infections
  • Treatment-related side effects
  • Hospital admissions
  • Length of stay during an inpatient admission
  • Overall quality of life

An RD can help manage the side effects caused by cancer treatment and personalize a plan for each patient. Symptoms may include taste changes, mouth sores, painful swallowing, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, or abdominal pain. RDs can help patients identify foods that can trigger or exacerbate symptoms, while developing eating strategies to maintain weight and strength. The goal is to learn to prepare favorite foods in new ways so they can still be enjoyed and provide the necessary nutrition.

With certain kinds of cancer diagnoses and treatments, people may need to follow strict, prescribed diets. RDs can also help find ways to manage food restrictions and daily life. Food is often linked to health and happiness, and many people find strength in learning the dietary tools and strategies that can help them reach their treatment goals. Dietitians work in collaboration with your medical team aligning recommendations with medications and techniques.

Why the Web Might Not Be Your Best Friend

While so much information exists online about cancer and nutrition, meeting with a dietitian has many advantages over browsing the internet for advice. There’s often contradicting information on the web and meeting with a nutrition expert can help differentiate between fact and fiction and debunk common nutrition myths. You also won’t get one-size-fits-all diet advice. RDs create individualized nutrition strategies and goals personalized for each patient. Taking a patient’s income into account, they can help by providing customized recommendations based on a patient’s unique set of circumstances.

To make an appointment with a nutritionist who specializes in cancer care, call 855-UMASS-MD (855-862-7763).

Join the Conversation. The internet is full of fact and fiction when it comes to cancer. What are some of the crazy things you’ve heard online about food in relationship to cancer?

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