Nutrition Counseling for Cancer Patients

Amandeep kaur

Professor, Khalsa College of Nursing, Amritsar, Punjab, India

In industrialized countries every fourth death is caused by cancer. Scarcely any family or circle of acquaintance is spared the sad fate of watching while a loved one slowly succumbs to this disease. Those who have faced the knowledge that their body is carrying a tumor which is threatening to spread may well ask “What can I expect from the future? Must I give in without a fight or are there practical and promising methods for tackling the situation?”

Not all health problems are avoidable, but you have more control over your health than you may think. Research shows that a large percentage of cancer-related deaths are directly linked to lifestyle choices such as smoking, drinking, a lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet. Avoiding cigarettes, limiting alcohol, reaching a healthy weight, and getting regular exercise are a great start to preventing cancer. Cancer treatments are designed to kill cancer cells. But these treatments can also damage healthy cells. Damage to healthy cells can cause side effects. Some of these side effects can lead to eating/ appetite problems. But to best support your health, you also need to look at your eating habits. What you eat and don’t eat has a powerful effect on health, including the risk of cancer. Without knowing it, you may be eating many foods that fuel cancer, while neglecting the powerful foods and nutrients that can protect you. For example, a daily serving of processed meat increases your risk of colorectal cancer, whereas eating soy foods such as tofu can help reduce your risk of breast cancer and eating more fruits and vegetables can lower your risk for a variety of common cancers. By making small changes to your diet and behaviors, you can lower your risk of disease.  If you’ve already been diagnosed, eating a healthy diet can help boost your mood and outlook as well as support your medical treatment at this challenging time. External factors affecting nutritional status include the environmental and social contexts within which an individual exists. These contexts encompass the overall health of the country’s economy, which has an impact on transportation, access to food shopping, availability of different nutrients, adequacy of housing and food preparation facilities and availability of programs that offer food assistance. Environmental factors influence the individual, who possesses cultural beliefs and attitudes about nutrition and eating behaviors. Internal factors that influence a person’s tendency to develop nutritional deficiencies include age, body image, past history of food fads or eating disorders, social support, educational level, alcohol or tobacco intake, and presence of comorbid diseases. Much more research in this area is needed before individuals at risk can be reliably identified. Cancer-related factors include the type of cancer that affects the probability of malnutrition. Individuals with breast cancer or leukemia are at low risk, whereas 31% to 48% of patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma have significant weight loss. Moreover, unfavorable histology is correlated with higher weight loss. Individuals with cancers of the aero digestive (upper respiratory and digestive) and gastrointestinal (GI) tracts are at special risk for under nutrition from mechanical obstruction and physiological dysfunction due to local tumor compression. Host responses to the cancer and the cancer itself cause changes in metabolism and energy needs and may explain why those individuals with advanced disease are more likely to have nutritional problems. People with cancer often need to follow diets that are different from what they think of as healthy. For most people, a healthy diet includes: Lots of fruits and vegetables, and whole grain breads and cereals, modest amounts of meat and milk products, small amounts of fat, sugar, alcohol and salt. Cancer clients need to eat to keep up strength to deal with the side effects of treatment. When you are healthy, eating enough food is often not a problem.  But when you are dealing with cancer and treatment, this can be a real challenge. In cancer, one may need extra protein and calories. At times, diet may need to include extra milk, cheese, and eggs. Sometimes, one may need to eat low-fiber foods instead of those with high fiber. Common eating problems during cancer treatment include the following:

  1. Appetite loss
  2. Changes in sense of taste or smell
  3. Constipation
  4. Diarrhea
  5. Dry mouth
  6. Lactose intolerance
  7. Nausea
  8. Sore mouth
  9. Sore throat and trouble swallowing
  10. Vomiting
  11. Weight gain
  12. Weight loss.

Therefore nutrition counseling is required to maintain health of the client which includes

  1. Diet: It covers selection and rejection of what to eat and what not to eat respectively.
  2. Exercise & activity: This helps to increase the strength of your body so that the body can fight against all the forces that are causing a threat to it.
  3. Behavior modification and managing acute side effects: Cancer treatment is not side effect free. You cannot get rid of the side effects but you can surely manage them. Nutrition counseling helps to develop diets that will enable to control such side effects.

In conclusion, it can be pointed out that the main purpose of nutrition counseling for a cancer patient is to provide the patient (on whom it is being done) with not only physical strength but also with mental strength to fight against the odds. It helps one to develop an eating habit that is safe.

“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”

                                                                                                                                                     – Ann Wigmore



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