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Supportive Care for Cancer

Nutrition for Cancer

For Patients and Survivors

Good nutrition is essential to ensure that one’s body is strong during treatment and for rebuilding defenses to help prevent recurrence in the future.  Cancer patients are especially vulnerable to malnutrition, due to changes in appetite and the body’s diminsished ability to absorb certain nutrients. Cancerous cells can pull energy and nutrients away from healthy cells, weakening the body.  Treatment itself can cause digestive issues, mouth sores, pain, difficulty swallowing, change in taste and loss of appetite. Both emotional stress and physical changes in the body can impact diet.[1]  A Hopkins integrative nutritionist can help to create a customized diet that addresses change in taste and nutritional needs and potential drug interactions, as well as ensuring one incorporates foods thought to help fight cancer.

During treatment, patients are at increased risk of losing nutrients, which can make it difficult to continue aggressive treatment.[2] One may experience diarrhea, constipation, nausea and/or vomiting; it is important to eat calorie-dense foods, and to have frequent small meals to ensure that there is adequate caloric intake.  As one recovers, a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, liquids and fiber will have a variety of essential nutrients for those regaining their strength after treatment.  Healthy, unsaturated fats, whole grains and lean proteins are best.  Vital nutrients are easily absorbed by the body through food, but if considering supplements, consult your nutritionist and physician.[3]  

It is important to remember that the emotional stress of cancer can also affect appetite and eating habits. Remember to find the support to help cope with anxiety, depression, fatigue, and any other emotions. Support groups are a great way to meet others and learn from them.

For Caretakers

There are many ways to support a loved one affected by cancer through treatment and recovery.  Caretakers may find that their loved one’s eating preferences change frequently. One can be supportive by keeping snacks handy and adopting a healthy diet in the household. Our nutritionists can provide innovative recipes to help caretakers learn how to shop according to specific dietary needs, budget, and cooking abilities. They can also sit down with caretakers to plan healthy meals everyone will enjoy.[4]  

What to Expect During a Nutrition Consultation

Patients and their caretakers will meet with one of our nutritionists to discuss individual needs. Consultation will include a comprehensive review of symptoms and side effects, potential drug interactions, dietary needs and preferences, and budgetary and food preparation restrictions. Based on this, the nutritionist will develop individualized menu plans.

Appointments are available at our Green Spring Station office. Please inform your doctor or medical care provider of any integrative therapies used to support your cancer treatment. 

[1] Wojtaszek CA, Kochis LM, Cunningham RS: Nutrition impact symptoms in the oncology patient. Oncology Issues 17, no. 2, (2002): 15-7. 

[2] Shils ME: Nutrition and diet in cancer management. In: Shils ME, Olson JA, Shike M, et al., eds.: Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. 9th ed. (Baltimore, Md: Williams & Wilkins, 1999), 1317-47. 

[3] “What you Should Know about Cancer Treatment, Eating Well, and Eating Problems.” National Cancer Institute. (accessed February 3, 2011).

[4] Ibid.