Two years ago I cared for my dad as his lung cancer quickly advanced. Had I known some of the information presented in the blog below, I might have been able to make some of his last days more comfortable. Here is a guest post from David Haas.
Maintaining Nutrition During Cancer Treatment
Good nutrition is never more important than when someone is battling cancer. Chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments cause side effects that make eating difficult. Yet, eating well is necessary to help the body heal, fight infection and stay healthy.
Cancer symptoms, and the side effects of treatment, affect the body in numerous ways. They can change how someone tastes, chews and swallows food. They can also change how the body uses the nutrients in food.
MD Anderson and other cancer centers offer nutrition services to help patients cope with cancer-related diet and appetite concerns. Their professional staffs of doctors, nurses and dietitians helps patients plan meals that meet their nutritional needs.
Customized Cancer Diets
Custom cancer diets are important, because nutritional needs differ for each patient. People who are recovering from chemotherapy or surgery need foods that can give them strength and energy. Those living with advanced cancers like mesothelioma require palliative nutrition care that meets their end-of-life needs.
Based on the common side effects of cancer treatment, here are some tips that can help patients cope with poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea and constipation, mouth and throat problems and tube feeding. These general tips are helpful for most patients, but doctors and dietitians can help patients with specifics.
General Nutrition Tips
Many cancer patients report a loss of appetite during cancer treatment. This can lead to weight loss, weakness and malnutrition. Dietitians recommend small, frequent meals throughout the day. Light exercise may stimulate the appetite, or doctors can prescribe medications. Taking advantage of the hungry times of day can help patients get essential nutrients into the body.
Poor appetite often stems from nausea and vomiting, two frequent side effects of cancer treatment. Avoiding fatty, greasy foods or foods with strong smells can help curb the nausea. Liquid meals may be an option for people who cannot eat solid food. Doctors can also prescribe anti-nausea medications.
Cancer treatment can cause digestive problems like diarrhea and constipation. Depending on the problem, patients may need to reduce or increase their fiber intake. People who suffer from diarrhea need extra fluids as well as more sodium and potassium. Light exercise and stool softeners can help those with constipation.
Mouth sores, dry mouth and sore throat are common side effects of cancer treatment. Soft or pureed foods make eating a little easier, and lukewarm foods are less irritating than hot and cold foods. Throat sprays, lozenges and artificial saliva can also help.
Tube feeding and intravenous nutrition therapy may be necessary for some cancer patients. When eating is impossible and the weight keeps dropping, these therapies can ensure that patients get enough protein, calories, vitamins, fluids and other essential nutrients.