guest post: nutrition & cancer by jillian mckee



{pictured above: grilled harissa & veggies}

As frightening and upsetting as Cancer can be, few of us have been unaffected thus far: whether discovering it within us or someone we love dearly.  Today’s guest author, Jillian Mckee, is the Complimentary Medicine Advocate at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.  

Nutrition and Cancer 

Proper nutrition is a key part of the battle against cancers of all types. Caregivers need to learn all they can about the nutritional needs of someone with cancer.  Proper nutrition is an important aspect of survival in all cancers, whether someone has mesothelioma, leukemia or cancers of the digestive tract. Here is a list of considerations regarding nutrition and cancer:

Weight Loss and Gain: 

The goal during cancer treatment is to maintain the current weight even if a patient is overweight.  It turns out overweight persons often survive longer with cancers simply due to having more body mass to stand up to the effects of cancer.  This is not a reason to become overweight since overall the effects of obesity are not good for the body.  Some drugs that are used to treat cancer, for example, steroids, will cause the patient to gain weight.  Other cancer drugs will decrease appetite due to nausea or changes in taste.  Despite all of this, the goal is to remain the current weight.  A cancer patient should check their weight several times a week and keep close track of the calories that they take in.  They need to maintain a level that will keep their weight in check. This often means revising the diet quite frequently.  Use of a registered dietician is a great help here.

Type of diet: 

The diet should be well balanced with lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  Protein obtained from dairy products or legumes may be easier for the patient to handle than that of prepared meats.  Certain medications for cancer can interact with some foods.  The patient should check with his doctor and make sure these foods are controlled or eliminated from the diet.  Problems often involve grapefruit, caffeine, and alcohol.  If possible, the patient should eat a majority of unprocessed foods, such as, salad or raw carrots.   Five small meals may be more suitable to a cancer patient since they don’t usually have a big appetite at any meal.  Meals must also be planned around any medications that should not be taken with food.  Those patients with special problems such as diabetes or those with cancers involving the digestive tract should consult with a cancer nutrition specialist to find foods that can be eaten safely by the patient.  It is not unusual for a cancer patient to need several kinds of diets depending on where in their therapy they are at any given time.

Enteral or liquid feedings: 

Eating regular food is better for the digestive system since the body was designed to do this.  If it becomes so difficult that a patient cannot properly eat with normal foods, supplements or enteral feedings may be necessary.  Enteral feedings are liquid feedings that are delivered directly into a vein or the stomach.  Unfortunately, these types of feedings often cause diarrhea and can decrease the appetite even more for regular foods.  This is a difficult choice, but a combination of supplements and regular foods is best if possible.  Sometimes a patient needs to approach food as a type of medicine needed to get well if all else fails.   Many patients have some success with using a favorite food as a reward for following their diet plan.

Other issues: 

Cancer changes the way the body responds to food.  One major problem with all cancers is that the rapid growth of the cancer uses up the body’s energy much faster than normal.  Once the body has started to loose protein mass from cancer this condition is very hard to stop.  It is important that this change be monitored carefully in the cancer patient.

Some patients develop sores, nausea, mental changes and taste problems.  Many of these issues may occur without the patient being able to notify his or her caregivers.   These changes need to be watched for by the caregiver because they can have a detrimental effect on treatment.  Such changes can cause a decline in appetite that prevents a patient from regaining his strength.

Once a patient reaches a stage where he or she will not recover, proper nutrition will still add to their comfort.  Lack of proper nutrition creates additional problems due to lack of vitamins, energy and changes in sugar levels.  Nutrition continues to be a necessity even in advanced stages of cancer.

Thanks Jillian!  If anyone has questions or would like to contact Jillian, you can find her bio and contact info here and additional articles she has written here.   Enjoy the last days of Summer everyone! xo~ katrina 

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