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How Treatment Can Affect Eating

 Cancer Treatment How It Can Affect Eating
 What Sometimes Happens: Side Effects
Increases the need for good nutrition. May slow digestion. May lessen the ability of the mouth, throat, and stomach to work properly. Adequate nutrition helps wound-healing and recovery.
Before surgery, a high-protein, high-calorie diet may be prescribed if a patient is underweight or weak. After surgery, some patients may not be able to eat normally at first. They may receive nutrients through a needle in their vein (such as in total parenteral nutrition), or through a tube in their nose or stomach.
Radiation Therapy

As it damages cancer cells, it also may affect healthy cells and healthy parts of the body. 

Treatment of head, neck, chest, or breast may cause:
  • Dry mouth
  • Sore mouth
  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Change in taste of food
  • Dental problems
  • Increased phlegm
Treatment of stomach or pelvis may cause:
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Cramps, bloating

As it destroys cancer cells, it also may affect the digestive system and the desire or ability to eat.

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Sore Mouth or throat
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Change in taste of food

Biological Therapy (Immunotherapy)

As it stimulates your immune system to fight cancer cells, it can affect the desire or ability to eat.

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sore mouth
  • Severe weight loss
  • Dry mouth
  • Change in taste of food
  • Muscle aches, fatigue, fever
Hormonal Therapy

Some types can increase appetite and change how the body handles fluids.

  • Changes in appetite
  • Fluid retention

Remember, there aren't any hard and fast nutrition rules during cancer treatment. Some patients may continue to enjoy eating and have a normal appetite throughout most of their cancer treatment. Others may have days when they don't feel like eating at all; even the thought of food may make them feel sick. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • When you can eat, try to eat meals and snacks with sufficient protein and calories; they will help you keep up your strength, prevent body tissues from breaking down, and rebuild tissues that cancer treatment may harm.
  • Many people find their appetite is better in the morning. Take advantage of this and eat more then. Consider having your main meal of the day early, and have liquid meal replacements later on if you don't feel so interested in eating.
  • If you don't feel well and can eat only one or two things, stick with them until you are able to eat other foods. Try a liquid meal replacement for extra calories and protein.
  • On those days when you can't eat at all, don't worry about it. Do what you can to make yourself feel better. Come back to eating as soon as you can, and let your doctor know if this problem doesn't get better within a couple of days.
  • Try to drink plenty of fluids, especially on those days when you don't feel like eating. Water is essential to your body's proper functioning, so getting enough fluids will ensure that your body has the water it needs. For most adults, 6-8 cups of fluid a day are a good target. Try carrying a water bottle with you during the day. That may help you get into the habit of drinking plenty of fluids.
Mavis Cabral Medical Centre, P. O. Box 2259, St. John's, Antigua, West Indies
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