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Nutrition FAQ

Q. Will I lose weight?
A. Weight loss is common in cancer patients. But it’s important to remember that not everyone receiving treatment for cancer will lose weight. Weight loss can be caused by many factors which often stem from the side effects of treatments. Diets higher in protein and calories can help prevent the onset of weight loss or help prevent further weight loss in some cases. It is important to monitor nutrition early to help prevent weight loss. The Registered Dietitian can assist in helping with management of weight through dietary suggestions and special diet recommendations.

Q. What are common nutrition related side
effects of chemotherapy?

A. It is possible that a patient may experience some of the following side effects that interfere with eating and digestion during cancer treatments:

  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Inflammation and or sores in the mouth
  • Changes in the way foods taste
  • Infections
  • Feeling of fullness
  • Reduced appetite
  • And others

Whether one experiences these side effects depends on the part of the body being treated, the type and length of the treatment and the amount of the treatment. Each individual has a different response, and fortunately, not everyone experiences side effects during chemotherapy treatment. It’s
important that patients touch base with doctors, nurses or dietitian if it becomes more and more difficult to get the nutrients needed to tolerate and recover from treatment, prevent weight loss, and maintain general health.

Q. Why is nutrition important during chemotherapy?
A. Healthy eating guidelines have been developed for the general public. However,in some cases, the needs are different for the person with cancer. When you have cancer and are receiving treatments your body may need more nutrients. You may be surprised to hear the suggestion to eat more fats or carbohydrates and protein rich foods but when you are fighting cancer you need all the extra calories and nutrients you can get. Extra protein, fats and calories can help you maintain weight or gain weight if needed. Certain surgeries can
also require special diets and it will be especially important to make sure you
are getting the nutrients you need. Your doctor and Registered Dietitian can help you manage your dietary intake throughout your treatments. If necessary we can recommend an appropriate nutrition supplement.

Don’t forget fluids! Fluids help keep your body working properly. That’s why it
is important to drink an average 8-10 cups of fluid a day. Fluid helps to prevent dehydration and allow your body to handle treatments much more effectively. Water is excellent, but the following choices offer fluids and (often) much needed calories too.

  • Fruit Juices
  • Carbonated Beverages
  • Milk, Milkshakes, Smoothies
  • Gelatin, Puddings
  • Soups
  • Popsicles
  • Flavored water beverages

Q. Is it safe to diet during chemotherapy?
A. Most doctors would prefer that patients refrain from following any weight
loss diets or programs during cancer treatments. Your body is going through significant stress from treatments along with emotional stresses that may
also be present.Intentional weight loss intensifies that stress and could
make treatment side effects worse. Make your doctor aware of any current
diets you are following. If you are interested in weight loss talk with your
doctor first, usually weight loss plans can be safely followed after your
treatment is completed with your doctors approval and the assistance
of a Registered Dietitian.

Q. What foods should I avoid during treatments?
A. Most foods are not restricted during treatments (unless certain circumstances require food restrictions). But there are a few exceptions that can make side effects worse and/or interfere with medications. You may want to avoid or
limit the following:

  • Raw honey
  • Food that may cause stomach upset or
    indigestion, very spicy or very sweet foods.
  • Caffeinated beverages, including coffee
  • Alcohol
  • Mega doses of vitamins and minerals

Q. Can dietary modifications help with diarrhea?
A. There are several tried and trusted anti-diarrhea medications that work
wel for many patients. Your nurse or doctor will discuss these with you. But,
die changes may help as well. Often diarrhea is worsened by increased dairy consumption, coffee, large amounts of juice, excessive amounts of vitamins
or disagreeable food choices. Common suggestions to ease diarrhea include drinking plenty of fluids, possibly a low-residue diet, choosing protein foods
and more bland and binding foods such as those suggested in the BRAT diet.
The nutritionist can help you decide what would work best for you and offer suggestions to help with diarrhea or constipation.

Q. Should I take a multivitamin during chemotherapy?
A. Multivitamins can be beneficial for patients for many reasons, especially if treatment side effects interfere with the patients ability to eat a variety of foods. The patient should always speak to their oncologist about taking any type of vitamin, mineral or other supplement during treatments. Your doctor can often recommend a multivitamin best suited for you.

Q. The doctor said I cannot have fresh foods for a while…what does this mean?
A. Many cancer treatments reduce the number infection fighting cells in your body. Sometimes the number of these cells may fall too low; this can make it easier to acquire an infection. These infections can be caused by bacteria, which are found in food or beverages. If this happens your doctor or nurse will tell you to be extra careful around other people that are sick (for example: have a cold) and to avoid eating fresh, raw foods until your cell counts are more normal. Uncooked food items contain a large amount of bacteria, and it may be recommended that you avoid them in your diet. Your Registered Dietitian can provide you with guidelines and a list of foods to avoid during this time.

Q. Is it safe to use alternative herbal supplements while
receiving treatments?

A. There are many products on the market that have exciting claims for cures and revention of illness. Before taking herbal supplements or other alternative, natural or herbal forms of treatment talk to your doctor first. There’s no question that some herbs provide health benefits. But some herbal products can interfere with certain medications and treatments thus it’s important to make your healthcare team aware if you are taking any such substances. The Registered Dietitian can typically provide you with information on herbs and other products
so you can be more informed about a product and its uses.

Q. What are good snacks to have around during times of nausea?
A. Nausea is a common side effect during chemotherapy. You will be given anti-nausea medications if this is a concern. If nausea is preventing you from eating well seek the help of your doctor and Registered Dietitian as soon as possible to help you with a plan of action. Snacking can help you get the calories you need between meals. Food is less appealing during times of nausea but remember your body still requires nutrients to function properly. A good tip is to have quick-fix foods or snacks around you know you can tolerate even when you’re feeling sick. Try some of the following:

  • Applesauce
  • Fruit cups
  • Fresh (juicy) fruits
  • Instant oatmeal packets
  • Soups
  • Trail Mix or nuts
  • Dips or yogurt
  • Dried fruit
  • Cheese
  • Crackers
  • Pudding cups
  • Ice cream
  • Angel food cake
  • Cereal, Granola

Q. Can diet modifications reduce my risks of recurrence after treatments are complete?
A. Depending on what we eat, diet can either increase or decrease our risk of getting cancer. Still, Studies are inconclusive at this time, preliminary evidence suggests that some components of food may play a role in decreasing the risk
of developing cancer, including phytochemicals, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids. A recurrence of cancer depends on many factors for instant the type of cancer, the location, and extent of the cancer all contribute. It’s important to speak with your doctor about your specific situation.

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), if you eat right, stay active and watch your weight it can add up to a formula that can cut cancer risk by 30 to 40%.

Health experts widely believe that obtaining the proper nutrients from whole foods is more effective than obtaining them from supplements. A single fruit
or vegetable may contain scores of nutrients and beneficial chemicals. These chemicals may act together to fight disease. There is no one food or food group that is known to prevent the occurrence of cancer but, changing daily dietary habits to more healthy ones may help.

It’s generally recommended that people follow the dietary guidelines set by
the American Cancer Society and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) for cancer prevention diet recommendations. These guidelines are consistent with dietary recommendations that may also help prevent heart diseases and diabetes.

Q. What is Cachexia?
A. The presence of a malignant tumor may alter the way the body uses major nutrients leading to a condition called cachexia. Cachexia is a wasting syndrome that causes weakness and a loss of weight, fat, and muscle. Anorexia and cachexia often occur together. Cachexia can occur in people who are eating enough, but cannot absorb the nutrients properly. Cachexia is not related to the tumor size, type, or extent. Cancer cachexia is not the same as starvation.
A healthy person's body can adjust to starvation by slowing down its use of nutrients, but in cancer patients, the body does not make this adjustment. Be sure to ask questions and talk with your care team to obtain the resources you need to learn more or deal with cachexia/anorexia.

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