Cancer is the second leading cause of death in this country. This year, the American Cancer Society estimates 1,284,900 cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S., and 555,500 patients will die from it. Among men, the most common commonly diagnosed cancers are prostate, lung, colorectal, bladder, and melanoma. In women, it’s cancer of the breast, lung, colon-rectum, uterus, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Researchers are finding better ways to treat cancer, and many people with cancer are surviving the treatment and living long and productive lives. The American Cancer Society estimates nearly nine million Americans are cancer survivors. Survival extends to at least three stages – active treatment, recovery from treatment, and long-term health maintenance and prevention of recurrence.
Nutrition for Cancer Survivors
An important aspect of health for cancer patients and survivors is nutrition. In general, nutrition needs of cancer patients tend to vary throughout the stages of survival. During active treatment, surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy can drain the body of its energy reserves and weaken the immune system. In addition, the treatments may impair the ability to eat or digest food. Patients may experience nausea, appetite problems, weight loss, loss of muscle mass, fatigue, and anemia. Nutrition experts say patients may need to adjust food choices and eating patterns to compensate for the symptoms and avoid serious malnutrition. Eating frequent snacks or smaller meals may be better than the standard “three-meals-a-day.” Patients should look for foods that are pleasing to eat, easy to swallow, and easy to digest. Those who are having difficulty getting enough calories or nutrients may need commercially prepared nutritional supplements.
When treatment ends, patients begin recovery and need to build their bodies and resume normal activities. Sometimes symptoms, such as fatigue and altered taste perceptions, persist for some time. A gradual program of exercise can build strength and help fight some of the fatigue. Patients with treatment-related disabilities or limitations may need medical supervision or advice to find a safe and appropriate exercise regimen. Loss of taste can sometimes be overcome by adding extra seasonings to food. Some patients tend to gain weight during treatment and recovery. Health experts recommend avoiding attempts at weight loss until active treatment and recovery have ended.
Once patients have recovered, they are often anxious to get back into a regular routine and lifestyle. Diet often becomes an important concern – both to keep the body healthy and to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. Much research has been published on the role of nutrition for the prevention of cancer. But there are few reports on the role of nutrition for cancer survivors. The American Cancer Society and dietary experts currently recommend that cancer survivors follow the same healthy nutrition guidelines for cancer prevention. The USDA Food Guide Pyramid is a good basis for healthy eating. One important recommendation is to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, which may boost the immune system and help fight disease. They are also low in fat and excellent sources of fiber. Reducing the amount of fat –particularly animal fat – is also important.
A special concern for cancer survivors is food safety. Suppression of the immune system and weaker bodies may make survivors more susceptible to food-borne illness. Health experts suggest following safe food handling practices, such as washing hands thoroughly before and after handling food, keeping all areas of food preparation clean, handling raw foods carefully, cooking foods to recommended temperatures, and storing foods properly to prevent growth of bacteria.
For general information on nutrition for cancer survivors:
American Cancer Society, contact your local chapter, or visit their website at http://www.cancer.org
American Dietetic Association, http://www.eatright.org