Oncology is the study, treatment, diagnosis, and prevention of tumours. Evidence has shown that nutrition is an important part of the treatment of cancer, the main treatments being chemotherapy, endocrine therapy and immunotherapy.
The nutritional needs of cancer patients can often not be met due to the side effects of some treatments which include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea, which could contribute to malnourishment and weight loss. Other challenges include changes in taste, smell, appetite, and the ability to eat enough food or absorb nutrients from food.
Other causes of malnutrition in cancer patients include anorexia and cachexia. Anorexia is the loss of appetite or desire to eat. Anorexia may occur early in the disease, or later, if the cancer grows or spreads. Some patients already have anorexia when they are diagnosed with cancer, and most patients who have advanced cancer will have anorexia. Anorexia is the most common cause of malnutrition in cancer patients. Cachexia on the other hand is a condition marked by weakness, and loss in fat, weight and muscle mass. It is common in patients with tumours as it impacts their consumption and digestion of foods. If tumours occur in the abdomen, intestinal or head and neck area, there may be a change in the body's intake of proteins, carbohydrates and fat. Cachexia can therefore occur in cancer patients who are eating well but are not storing fat and muscle because of tumour growth.
Good nutrition can help cancer patients maintain their weight and energy levels, reduce the side effects mentioned above, and improve their immune systems to prevent the chance of infections. Preparing cancer patients through nutrition in their treatment journey, from pre- to post-treatment, should help patients achieve improved well-being and have an accelerated recovery period.
HCPs should aim for their cancer patients to adequately meet their nutritional needs in order to facilitate stability and recovery.
Through its science-based resources, HCPs could help promote a well-balanced diet to their cancer patients which should maintain their weight, energy levels, and overall health during various treatments for optimal recovery.