Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by uncontrolled growth of cells in the human body. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimated that almost one and one-half million new cases of cancer would be diagnosed in 2007 in the United States.
Once the information needed to determine the cancer’s stage is gathered, the physician will make a decision about treatment options. The most common treatments for cancer are chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Diet and nutrition play an important role in cancer prevention and cancer treatment.
Scientific evidence shows that populations with diets rich in vegetables and fruits but low in animal fat, meat, and calories have reduced risk of some common cancers. There is evidence to suggest that consuming generous amounts of fruits and vegetables plays an important role in preventing cancer through phytochemicals and antioxidants. Scientists have estimated that approximately 30 to 40% of all cancers could be averted if people ate more fruits, vegetables, and plant-based foods and minimized empty-calorie foods.
Cancer and its treatment can cause nutritional deficiencies. Many cancer treatments can cause loss of appetite, and chemotherapy can additionally cause nausea. Other nutritional needs for cancer patients arise because of a tendency to lose weight and muscle mass. When cancer is diagnosed, many patients will be placed on high-protein and high-calorie diets for a period of time to help maintain muscle and weight. If patients are having trouble chewing or difficulty swallowing, thick liquids such as milkshakes may be suggested. Other semi-solid foods may be helpful until swallowing or chewing ability improves. Eating small meals several times a day and choosing bland foods are some suggestions clinical dietitians will offer patients to deal with nausea caused by cancer treatment. Loss of appetite can be overcome by eating small snacks that contain plenty of calories and protein.
Some patients will need nutrition therapy to restore nutrients and remain nourished, particularly if they experience malnutrition because of their cancer or cancer treatment. Nutrition therapy may consist of enteral nutrition (tube feeding) or parenteral nutrition (through a vein catheter).
After cancer treatment, it is important to keep healthy eating habits to maintain a healthy weight, be as physically active as possible, and to eat a balanced diet that leans toward whole grains and plant-based foods instead of red meats and processed foods.