Nutrition During Cancer Care
Patients & Caregivers
Maintaining good nutrition during cancer care is critical both to make sure your body has its best fighting chance to effectively fight cancer, and also to prevent harm to essential body structures, including your teeth and mouth. In addition, therapies such as radiation, chemo, and surgery when used for some cancers cause changes in your eating and digesting abilities, often causing individuals to select foods that may be less healthy for their oral health or overall health.
What does your body need more of? Proteins, vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants. Fats are needed as well, provided those selected are unsaturated fats. It is important to maintain a consistent weight to maintain muscle mass.
What to avoid
What foods should be eaten in smaller portions? Your body does not benefit from processed foods including white flour and sugars. They should be eaten in low amounts. Your body also does not want fats of the saturated type. Processed sugars come in a variety of forms, including candies, cakes, dried fruit, and sugar-sweetened beverages. Your body’s best beverage choice is water, preferably fluoridated tap water, which strengthens enamel to reduce the risk of tooth erosion.
Changes caused by treatment
Mouth sores can result from chemotherapy or radiation. This may make it more difficult to eat crunchy foods such as nuts or sharp foods such as carrots and celery and may prompt choose soft, sticky foods such as cereal and yogurt. Nutrition supplement drinks can be helpful to get needed calories but be aware of the sugar content and the increased risk of tooth erosion from these which is a concern to those receiving radiation therapy for head and neck cancer.
Cells that line the digestive tract regenerate rapidly. Chemotherapies that target reproducing cells disturb the normal function of the stomach and intestines resulting in nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Eat frequent but small snacks and stay hydrated to help ease these side effects.
For more information about nutrition and oral health, see these resources:
Nutrition in Cancer Care - National Cancer Institute
All About Oncology Nutrition - Oncology Nutrition
Recipes for People with Cancer - Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Find Healthy Recipes - American Cancer Society
The Cancer Kitchen Recipes - University of Pennsylvania
Nutrition Product Portfolio (link to this PDF)
Introduction to Nutrition in Cancer Care - Oncology Nursing Society
Nutrition Case Study: Patient With Cancer of the Head and Neck - Oncology Nursing Society
Nutrition Learning Library - Oncology Nursing Society
Oncology Nursing Podcast Episode 93: How to Manage Nutrition for Patients With Cancer - Oncology Nursing Society
Oncology Nursing Podcast Episode 116: Screen and Manage Malnutrition in Patients With Cancer - Oncology Nursing Society
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More information regarding the following topics will be coming soon:
Importance of good oral health before, during, and after cancer care
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The information on the Rhode Island Cancer and Oral Health Resource Guide, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images, and other external materials are for informational purposes only. The Partnership to Reduce Cancer in Rhode Island does not provide medical advice. The information on this website is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.