Registered dietitians play an important role in cancer care. The Upstate Cancer Center’s Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Maria Erdman gives six examples:
* Patients in treatment for cancer do better when they are well nourished. Erdman said, “a well-nourished patient will have more lean body mass and may be more tolerant of sometimes difficult treatments.”
Good nutrition can also help reduce the number of hospital visits and, if someone does have to be hospitalized, the amount of time he or she stays may be reduced.
* Patients who may need the most nutritional intervention include those with head and neck cancers, esophageal cancer and lung cancer. That’s because they may develop difficulty swallowing during treatment and require alternative ways of eating.
* Some cancer patients experience nausea and vomiting and/or diarrhea. Many cancer treatments target fast-growing cancer cells, and the cells lining the gastrointestinal tract are often affected too, since they are among the body’s fastest-dividing cells.
Medications can be useful, but how, what and how much a patient eats can also impact symptoms.
* Some patients who lose weight during treatment also have trouble eating large quantities of food. A dietitian can provide recipes and ideas for foods that are nutritionally dense with good amounts of protein and calories.
* A patient who must be fed through a tube may require the assistance of a dietitian to help optimize the volume and type of feedings. A dietitian can sometimes help obtain health insurance coverage for these products.
* People wanting to reduce their cancer risk can also learn from oncology dietitians about the value of good nutrition.
One factor in cancer prevention, Erdman said, is to maintain a healthy body weight, remain physically active and eat a wide variety of plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and beans. “Following these guidelines doesn’t mean you won’t get cancer,” she said, “but making healthy lifestyle choices can reduce your risk, no matter what other risk factors you may have.”
Hear Erdman’s radio interview about cancer and nutrition. This article appears in the fall 2015 issue of Cancer Care magazine.