A healthy diet is an essential part of dealing with cancer. For some cancer conditions where there are problems with eating this can require special help. Others may require “building up” or other very specific special diets. This is a big and vital subject. The kind of cancer you’re dealing with and the kinds of treatment you’re having can require different diet solutions. In general, however, be clear that diet is of central importance.
For specific conditions, problems and diets you can get extensive advice from our suggested organisations, including the Cancer Research UK website. By way of general information they have advise that :
Up to 4 out of 10 people (40%) have unintended weight loss when their cancer is diagnosed, or have problems with nutrition early on. A good diet can help your body to:
- Cope with treatment side effects
- Handle the most beneficial dose of certain treatments
- Recover and heal faster
- Fight off infections
- Feel stronger, healthier and have more energy
If you are eating and drinking well, you will be able to cope better and recover faster. This could improve your chance of survival. You need a balanced diet, with plenty of calories, to keep your immune system working well. This can help you fight off infections, as well as helping your body fight the cancer.
Balanced diet: It is important to include everything you need in your diet, including:
- Vitamins and minerals
Not eating enough protein and calories [our emphasis] is one of the main problems faced by people with cancer. You need extra protein for healing – after surgery for example. Even in good health, roughly a third of all the calories you eat are used up by your immune system. So if you aren’t eating enough food, you might be more prone to infections and find it harder to fight them off once you get one.
We will not try to say here what the right diet might be for each type and degree of cancer, but we will stress the importance of getting good dietary advice from your doctor or any of our other recommended organisations. There’s just no point in going to all the trouble of everything involved in dealing with cancer if you don’t eat well.
Diet and Anxiety: Problems with eating and drinking may cause you a lot of distress and anxiety if you, or someone close to you, has cancer. Naturally, if you are looking after someone who is ill, you want to feed them up – but people with cancer can find it very difficult to eat enough. They may have an overwhelming feeling that they are disappointing their relatives or friends or being too difficult. Everyone involved could need a great deal of emotional support to help them cope.
Again, see the Cancer Research UK website about this and more about what diet is right for you. They also remind us that there may be times when treatment side effects or your illness affect your appetite and you will lose weight. At these times, eat what you like when you feel like it to make sure that you take as many calories as possible. If you feel like a big bowl of ice cream with chocolate sauce, have one!
Hospital Food can be very difficult to eat. Our sources remind us that being a patient in hospital and having to fit in with set meal times is in any case not always easy. You may feel sick, be away from the ward having tests or be asleep at meal times. Reheating meals is not safe. Because of this, nurses and kitchen staff cannot do it. This means that you may end up with a cold meal or nothing at all.
Added to this, nurses may not be available to help at meal times. If you are feeling very tired or unwell, or are tied up with drips, it can be difficult to cope alone. Too much recent information has revealed that nurses are often too busy and unable to pay enough attention to whether patients actually eat their meals – whether they are able to cut food up and eat it by themselves, for example. People who feel ill because of cancer or treatment need encouragement to eat and drink as this may help them recover faster. Unfortunately, the quality of food in hospitals is not always good and there may be nothing you like, particularly if you really don’t feel well. None of this helps if you are having problems with eating and weight.
Improving food standards in hospitals will take time, but change may happen faster if more people let the hospital administration know that they are not happy with hospital food. This really is a problem. Ask one of our recommended organisations for help. If possible get someone to see to it that you are being given enough and acceptable food. For all our sakes’ don’t put up with less.
These pages are about dealing with cancer as a chronic condition, but under “Self-Help” we should probably say a few words about prevention. In fact there really are only a few words to be said:
- Stop smoking
- Eat a healthy, Mediterranean-style diet (including the basic 5 portions of fruit and vegetables)
- Drink moderately
- Get regular exercise
- Avoid the sun at peak times