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Nutrition During Cancer Treatments

During the different stages of your journey to recovery, your nutritional needs will change. Even before treatment begins, your body may experience profound changes that can affect its ability to use nutrients.

Tanner Health System’s dietary specialists can perform a nutritional screening and assessment while your treatment is being planned. We can evaluate your current nutritional status and help you anticipate symptoms related to treatment that could affect your nutritional status. All of the major cancer treatments can impact nutritional needs, so food choices and eating patterns may need to be adjusted temporarily to make sure you meet your nutritional needs. During cancer treatments, eating may be a challenge due to side effects or loss of appetite.

Your body is working unusually hard during cancer treatments, not only fighting the cancer cells but repairing damage to healthy cells caused by the therapy. This requires higher amounts of nutrients. If there aren't enough to go around, a patient can experience malnutrition, forcing the body to take nutrients from stores in fat or even muscle tissue to obtain what it needs.

Try to maintain a positive attitude toward maintaining your diet during this time. Remember that by doing your best to maintain a good diet, you are contributing to your treatment as much as your team of medical professionals. Here, you can maintain a sense of control and involvement, and keep up the physical strength you need.

Until you actually begin treatment, you won't know exactly what, if any, side effects you may have or how they feel. Tanner offers this overview to help prepare you before you begin, so that you’ll know what you can do to optimize your treatments.

Nutrition suggestions for surgical treatment

  • The day or night before surgery, you may not be allowed to eat or drink anything. After surgery, it may be anywhere from several hours to a day or two before you can eat normally. Your doctor may require that you eat only easily digestible foods or liquids at first.
  • Many of the side effects will go away within a few days of the operation. On days when your appetite is good, try to eat regular meals and snacks, but don't force yourself. You may find eating small, frequent meals or snacks is easier.
  • As you recover, sip water, juices and other clear liquids throughout the day to prevent dehydration.

Nutrition suggestions for radiation therapy

  • Generally, radiation treatments are scheduled five days a week for a period of two to nine weeks. Side effects depend on the size and location of the treatment area, the dose of radiation and the number of treatments you receive.
  • Most patients start experiencing side effects around the second or third week of treatment. The strongest side effects usually occur about two-thirds of the way through treatment, and continue for two or three more weeks or longer.
  • It’s best not to go to a treatment on an empty stomach; try to eat something at least an hour before treatment. Bring snacks with you.
  • If food doesn’t taste good or if it’s hard to eat, try small, frequent meals. Be sure to drink plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration. Liquid meal replacements and other nutritional supplements can help during your treatment.

Nutrition suggestions for chemotherapy

  • Chemotherapy involves taking drugs by mouth or injection that kill cancer cells. Side effects will depend on the kind of drugs you take and how they are given. Common side effects of chemotherapy include changes in taste and smell, mouth tenderness or sores, nausea and fatigue. All of these can lead to loss of appetite.
  • Again, try eating small, frequent meals or snacks. Avoid fried or greasy foods, as they can be hard to digest. Drink eight to ten glasses of fluids each day.
  • If you are receiving chemotherapy treatments at an outpatient center, bring a light meal or snack so you can eat something beforehand.

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