Healthy eating habits are important during and after cancer treatment. Nutrition therapy is used to help cancer patients maintain healthy body weight, strength, keep body tissue healthy and decrease side effects both during and after treatment. Nutrition is vital for good health and implies healthy diet that includes eating combination of vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates, fat and water which is needed by body to stay healthy and active.
Well nourished cancer patients get the calories and nutrients they need to combat the ill effects of cancer treatment. They have a better prognosis and enjoy a better quality of life.
The effects of cancer treatments make it difficult for many to eat well. Cancer treatments that affect nutrition are surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and stem cell transplants. When the head, neck, oesophagus, stomach and intestines are affected by the aggressiveness of these treatments, the patient faces the unintended side effects of these treatments such as –
- Anorexia (loss of appetite)
- Mouth sores
- Dry mouth
- Trouble swallowing
Further, cancer treatments affect taste, smell and appetite and hence such people are unable to eat enough to absorb the key nutrients from food and become malnourished, diminishing their ability to fight the disease. It is therefore important that cancer symptoms and side effects that affect eating are detected early. Both nutrition therapy and medicines could be used for increasing appetite, improving digestion, preventing nausea and vomiting and reducing pain.
Nutrition therapy for cancer patients who are under active treatment and those who are in the process of recovery has three main goals –
- Treating nutrition issues that prevent muscle and bone loss.
- Help the patient’s immune system fight infection and help the body recover and heal.
- Keep up and improve the patient’s quality of life.
Methods of giving nutrition therapy for cancer patients unable to eat may be invasive in some cases and involves what is medically known as enteral feeding, In this case, a feeding tube is inserted directly into the stomach or intestines. The other method is called the parenteral method where the nutrients are infused into the bloodstream through the veins. The liquids in both cases are formulas that contain water, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals in accordance to the patient’s specific needs.
These methods of feeding have to be continued at home by a care giver after the patient has recovered and discharged from the hospital. Removal of these items when the patient has recovered at home should be done under medical supervision.
Treatment of cancer uses various methods depending on the specific type or location and is generally surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immuno therapy and stem cell transplants. While these may ultimately lead to the remission of the tumours, the patient has to endure the ill effects of such aggressive treatments. The chief of these is lack of appetite (anorexia), compounded by mouth sores, dryness of mouth, diarrhoea, continuing pain, depression and anxiety. As a result the patient cannot take the vitamins and minerals, proteins and carbohydrates that the body needs to sustain the treatment and fight infection.
Nutrient therapy for cancer patients steps in at this point by devising means to introduce these items into the body by introducing these vital foods directly into the stomach or intestines, or through the veins into the bloodstream.
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