How to Have a Better Diet Before Starting Cancer Treatment
Why is it important to make changes on your diet before the treatment?
Maintaining a healthy nutrition can greatly increase the chances of a successful treatment, and you should start taking action since the moment of diagnosis. In order to increase the patient's quality of life and the chances of a successful treatment, it’s crucial to prevent weight loss and malnutrition. Here's what can be done for a healthier diet right now.1
Risks of malnutrition
Surgery - Malnutrition is a big preoperative risk factor. Malnourished patients have a tendency of developing more infectious and non-infectious complications, as well as being hospitalized for longer. Taking nutritional supplements with immunomodulators, such as arginine, nucleotides and omega 3, can help patients prepare and recover from surgery when used five to seven days before and after the procedure. Ask your doctor and/or nutritionist if this would be a good idea for you.2
Non-surgical treatments - Chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy, and other cancer treatments can lead to weight and muscle mass loss, and, consequently, malnutrition. They often have an impact on food intake because some of the side effects interfere with appetite. Thus, paying special attention is necessary. Eating more protein and making complete meals (with more calories in them) are some strategies that can contribute to a better nutrition at this stage. Malnourishment lowers the treatments’ effectiveness and the body's tolerance to side effects.3
How to prevent malnutrition before starting the cancer treatment
Due to the metabolic activity of the tumor, it’s common to feel some side effects even before starting the treatment – especially a lack of appetite. This makes it even more difficult to increase calorie intake to avoid malnutrition. Below are some helpful tips for this issue3:
- Have five to six meals a day, once every three hours. That means you shouldn’t go a long time without eating;
- Drink at least ½ a gallon (two liters) of liquids per day. These could be water, coconut water, tea and fruit/vegetable juice. Write down your daily intake in order to create a routine;
- Eat fruit and vegetables every day. They are rich in minerals, fibers and vitamins, and help to improve digestion;
- If you already have a lack of appetite, prioritize high calorie and protein foods, such as fish, lean meat, chicken, eggs, and yogurt.
- Limit your consumption of food rich in fat and sugar, or excessively industrialized items;
- Ask your doctor and/or nutritionist about the need of taking dietary supplements.
After being diagnosed with cancer, it’s important to learn more about nutrition before and during treatment, and to ask all your questions to a nutritionist and the members of your healthcare team. Request a referral from your doctor.
1 - Oliveira FP, Santos A, Viana MS, Alves JL, Pinho NB, Reis PF. Nutritional Status of Patients with Cancer of the Oral Cavity in Antineoplastic
Pretreatment (“Perfil Nutricional de Pacientes com Câncer de Cavidade Oral em Pré-Tratamento Antineoplásico”). Available at: http://www1.inca.gov.br/rbc/n_61/v03/pdf/08-artigo-perfil-nutricional-de-pacientes-com-cancer-de-cavidade-oral-em-pre-tratamento-antineoplasico.pdf. Access on: October/2019.
2 - Nestlé Health Science. Positive Impact Program (“Programa Impacto Positivo”). Access on: October/2019.
3 - Brazilian Ministry of Health/ INCA: José Alencar Gomes da Silva National Cancer Institute (“Instituto Nacional de Câncer José Alencar Gomes da Silva”). Patient and Caregiver Nutrition Guide (“Guia de Nutrição para Pacientes e Cuidadores”). Available at: https://www.inca.gov.br/sites/ufu.sti.inca.local/files//media/document//guia-de-nutricao-para-pacientes-e-cuidadores-web-2015.pdf. Access on: October/2019.
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