Eating Well During Cancer Treatment
- A nutritious diet is always vital
for your body to work at its best. Good nutrition
is even more important for people with cancer. Why?
- Patients who eat well during their treatment are able to cope better
with the side effects of treatment. Patients who eat well may be able to
handle a higher dose of certain treatments.
- A healthy diet can help keep up your strength, prevent body tissues
from breaking down, and rebuild tissues that cancer treatment may harm.
- When you are unable to eat enough food or the right kind of food, your
body uses stored nutrients as a source
of energy. As a result, your natural defenses are weaker and your body cannot
fight infection as well. Yet, this
defense system is especially important to you now, because cancer patients
are often at risk of getting an infection.
What Kinds of Food Do I Need?
- A good rule to follow is to eat a variety of different foods every day.
No one food or group of foods contains all of the nutrients you need. A
diet to keep your body strong will include daily servings from these food
- Fruits and Vegetables: Raw or cooked vegetables, fruits, and
fruit juices provide certain vitamins (such as A and C) and minerals the
- Protein Foods: Protein helps your body heal itself and fight
infection. Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, yogurt, and cheese give you
protein as well as many vitamins and minerals.
- Grains: Grains, such as bread, pasta, rice, and cereals, provide
a variety of carbohydrates and B vitamins. Carbohydrates provide a good
source of energy, which the body needs to function well.
- Dairy Foods: Milk and other dairy products provide protein and
many vitamins and are the best source of calcium.
- To help Americans learn how to choose a healthy diet, the U.S. Department
of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services designed
a Food Guide Pyramid. The Food Guide Pyramid gives the amounts and types
of foods most Americans should try to eat each day. It emphasizes five food
groups- Bread, Fruit, Vegetable, Milk, and Meat-and focuses on reducing
the amount of fat in the diet. Figure 1: "Eat
a Variety of Foods Each Day," gives more details about the
guidelines in the Pyramid. The sample menu shows one way you can follow
the Food Pyramid guidelines.
- Keep in mind that the Food Pyramid may not meet the requirements of
individuals with special diet needs, such as cancer patients. In fact, the
best foods for you right now may be very different from those in the Food
Pyramid, depending on the type of treatment you are receiving or how you
feel. You probably will need more calories and more high-protein foods,
such as meats and dairy products. You may need to cut back on high-fiber
foods for a while, such as vegetables, fruits, cereals, and whole grains,
if your treatment causes diarrhea. Your doctor, nurse, or registered
dietitian also may suggest that you add commercial nutrition supplements
to your diet to make sure you get enough protein, calories,
and other nutrients during treatment. (See the section, "Commercial
Products To Improve Nutrition.")
- Pay attention to your body. If nausea makes certain foods unappealing,
then eat more of the foods you find easier to handle. For example, if you
get nauseous from eating fruits but can eat protein foods, eat more protein
foods and less fruit.
- Sometimes changing the form of a food will make it more appetizing and
help you eat better. You might try mixing canned fruit into a milkshake
if eating whole, fresh fruits is a problem.
- It is important to keep trying new things. Anything you eat will be
a plus in getting enough calories to maintain your weight. This information
describes some of the special diets that cancer patients may need to follow.
(See "Special Diets for Special
Needs.") It also gives ideas and recipes that worked for other
cancer patients when they had to change their diet or when they didn't feel
- Your doctor, nurse, and registered dietitian will let you know which
diet is best for you. Be sure to talk with them if you have any questions.
Can Good Nutrition Treat Cancer?
- Doctors know that patients who eat well during cancer treatment are
better able to cope with side effects. However, there is no evidence
that any kind of diet or food can either cure cancer or stop it from coming
back. In fact, some diets may be harmful, especially those that don't
include a variety of foods. There is also no evidence that dietary supplements,
such as vitamin or mineral pills, can cure cancer or stop it from coming
- The NCI strongly urges you to eat nutritious foods and follow the treatment
program prescribed by a doctor who uses accepted and proven methods or treatments.
People who depend upon unconventional treatments may lose valuable treatment
time and reduce their chances of controlling cancer and getting well.
- The NCI also recommends that you ask your doctor, nurse, or registered
dietitian before taking any vitamins or mineral supplements. Too much of
some vitamins or minerals can be just as dangerous as too little. Large
doses of some vitamins may even stop your cancer treatment from working
the way it should. To avoid problems, don't take these products on your
own. Follow your doctor's directions for safe results.