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Diet and cancer treatment

A correct diet and a healthy, moderately active lifestyle are essential to cancer prevention.

Broccoli fighting a cancer cell: metaphor of healthy food to prevent cancer

It has been clearly demonstrated that high cholesterol and overweight not only cause damage to the heart and arteries, but are also risk factors for the development of some types of cancer.

Following the right diet is crucial not only for those who are in good health conditions, but also for people undergoing cancer treatment.

Cancer weakens the body and causes a general inflammatory state that affects both metabolism and the appetite. Many anti-cancer therapies also cause several side effects that involve the gastro-intestinal tract, such as nausea or vomiting, resulting in food refusal.

Cancer patient with little appetite, frequent side effect of some anticancer therapies

Taking the rights nutrients, managing weight loss and treating any digestive problems are essential for patient’s quality of life, and a proper nutrition should be considered an integral part of the treatment.

Many types of cancer may cause weight loss due to several factors, including lack of appetite, metabolic disorders, and swallowing and digestion difficulties.

Women operated for breast cancer, on the other hand, are prone to weight gain; this effect has a negative impact on mood and may cause hormone imbalances, resulting in a worse prognosis.

Therefore, it is essential for patients to follow a balanced diet in order to retrieve energy and reinforce their immune system, optimize the effect of drugs and reduce any toxicities caused by chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and avoid the possible development of depressive disorders.

However, for many cancer patients, eating enough food requires a significant effort and this may cause stress and anxiety.

According to AIMAC – Italian Association for Cancer Patients and their family and friends, here are some tips to increase appetite:

  • If eating a whole meal is difficult, plan several snacks during the day: eat less and more often
  • Avoid foods with strong smells or flavors (spicy, greasy and overly sweet foods)
  • Keep something light and savory at hand to munch on: bread, wholegrain cereals, nuts or parmesan chips
  • If swallowing is difficult, yogurt and soft cheese may reduce the problem
  • Drink more often and in small sips: water, juices and extracts of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Physical exercise stimulates the appetite: even a short walk before a meal can be useful
  • Eat slowly, chew thoroughly and relax for a while after each meal
  • If cooking smells upset you, ask your family or friends to help you prepare your meals, or opt for cold food
  • Appetite also changes according to the mood: if you are in high spirits, allow yourself to eat what you like most
  • Meals are convivial occasions: eat with your family or friends, or listen to some good music while you eat
  • Try to make your food look as attractive as possible, even when garnishing your plate, so that it becomes more appetizing
Doctor inviting to eat fresh fruit

A diet that includes wholegrain cereals and legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables and small amounts of red meat is not only the key to healthy eating for cancer prevention, but is also highly indicated for the nutrition of cancer patients.

However, cancer patients should be aware that certain foods, though apparently harmless, may interfere with an ongoing therapy. Therefore, they should ask their doctor and comply with the doctor’s advice scrupulously.

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