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The battle against cancer can be long and arduous with patients like runners in a marathon. They need adequate and good nutrition to improve their immune system functionality and build resilience so as to cope with all kinds of difficulties encountered during cancer treatment. Sometimes, it might even be more appropriate for the patient to undergo a more aggressive and shorter period of treatment so they may get through it and complete their battle sooner.

 

In general, cancer patients should maintain a diet that is balanced and increases their caloric and protein intake. Their daily diet should include grains, meat, vegetables, fruits and dairy products. However, given the differences in physical status, levels of disease, and treatments, patients should consult medical professionals and a registered dietitian to develop a dietary plan that meets their needs.

 

The following is information on diet and nutrition recommendations for cancer patients during their treatments. FAQs regarding diet for cancer patients and cancer therapy have been provided by a Registered Dietitian at this centre. This centre provides free consultations with a professional nutritionist for patients undergoing treatment at IOC. Please fill in the Contact Us form at the bottom of this page or reach out to one of our staff members to make an appointment.

Cancer Diet Tips | Increase Calorie and Protein Intake

Increasing calorie intake can increase the amount of energy for your body needs, preventing weight and muscle fibre loss due to nutritional deficiency. High-calorie, dense energy foods include starchy foods, meats, fruits and dairy products. During your cancer treatment, the amount of protein intake you need will increase by 1.5 to 2 times compared to your normal intake. Foods such as meats, eggs, seafood, fish, and soybean products are high in proteins.

Cancer Diet Tips | Minerals and Vitamins

For minerals, high-selenium foods like eggs and prawns have antioxidant properties, while foods that are high in zinc like beans and fish can aid wound-healing and the formation of skin, hair, nails and oral mucosa. In addition, vitamin A (carrots, spinach), vitamin C (oranges, tomatoes) and vitamin E (nuts, dark green vegetables) bring different benefits during treatment.

Cancer Diet Tips | Eat Small, Frequent Meals and Avoid Cold and Hot Food at the Same Time

Patients should eat several small meals and snacks throughout the day, rather than three large meals. This can help alleviate some of the side effects of cancer treatment, such as loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and constipation. In addition, patients should avoid eating hot and cold foods at the same time as this can lead to vomiting. If a mouth ulcer occurs or the patient is having difficulties in swallowing, using a blender to puree the food into a smoother consistency can make it easier to swallow.

Cancer Diet Tips | Nutritional Supplement

If the patients experience loss of appetite and are diagnosed with malnutrition, the use of nutritional supplements can increase their daily intake. According to the guidelines from the European Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (ESPEN) it is suggested that cancer patients have nutritional supplements that are high in protein and calories (1.0-2kcal/ml) with omega-3 (1g EPA per portion). For patients who lose weight and exhibit high insulin resistance due to their bodies being less able to process carbohydrates, it is recommended they eat a high fat diet.

Cancer Diet Tips | Stimulate Taste Buds with Sweet and Sour Flavors

Cancer patients do not have to only eat bland foods. On the contrary, tomato soup, fruit juices and pickled vegetables can help stimulate their appetite. Some patients might find their taste buds have become less sensitive during treatment. Eating foods with natural seasonings and herbs, vinegar, lime juice and fruit juices while marinating and cooking their favourite meals can stimulate their taste buds.

Cancer Diet Tips | Stimulate Saliva Production with Fruits

Watermelon can be cut into cubes and stored in the freezer to let patients have them as snacks which can ease the pain from mucositis. Alternatively, these can be replaced with fruit candy. These can help stimulate saliva production which is good for patients with dry mouth. In addition, they could also choose for foods that are juicy and with a smooth consistency which can ease the discomfort of a dry mouth.

Cancer Diet Tips | High-fiber Diet (Depending on Stool Frequency)

Eating more high-fibre foods such as whole-grain foods, fruits, mushrooms, black fungus, sesame sweet soup and congee with sweet potatoes can help relieve constipation. However, if the patients have diarrhoea, high-fibre foods, coffee and milk should be avoided and they should also stay away from foods that are too sweet and oily as well as those with strong flavours. Low-fibre foods like white breads, plain congee, meats, seafood, eggs, gourds and fruit juices with no pulp are suggested in order to reduce the stress on the stomach.

Debunking the myths of cancer diet

There is a plethora of myths surrounding cancer dietary needs, some of which include “eating less can starve the cancer cells until they die off” which is similar to “taking high-sugar foods encourages cancer cell growth”. To allay all your doubts, our dietitian will walk you through which of these are myths and which are true.

  • During cancer treatment, should our diet mainly consist of bland foods?

Diets for cancer patients should be balanced and nutritious. It is not necessary to deliberately follow a strict diet with just bland foods. A more important rule to follow is to cook in an innovative way that stimulates the patient’s appetite so that they could attain the level of nutrients intake that their body needs during cancer treatment.

  • Are there any foods that the patients need to avoid

Given that a patient’s immune system will fluctuate during their cancer treatment, they should keep an eye on their hygiene and thus the safety of the food preparation. They should avoid having foods that are not entirely cooked, prone to bacterial infections, mouldy or rotten, such as salads or sushi and sashimi. At the same time, they should avoid consuming highly carcinogenic foods such as preserved meats, salted fish and alcohol.

  • Can cutting down on sugar or eating less starve cancer?

Cutting down on sugar or eating less to “starve” a cancer is an unwise way to treat cancer and can quite possibly backfire if the patient becomes energy deficient, which can result in malnourishment and weight loss. Not only does this damage your body, but it also adversely affects the progress and effectiveness of the cancer treatment.

  • Will nutrient-intense foods feed cancer cells?

No scientific studies have found that having nutrient-intense foods encourages cancer cell growth. On the contrary, cancer patients are advised to consume more nutritious foods as the patient needs an abundant level of nutrition before, during and after treatment for preventing weight loss and getting them through the battle against cancer.

  • Will eating chicken or eggs encourage cancer cell growth?

Some patients have worried about the adverse impacts of hormones contained in chicken and eggs on their cancer. In fact, medical research has yet to show that hormones consumed by the patients stimulate cancer cell growth. In addition, the use of growth hormones has been banned in poultry production both internationally and locally. As such and theoretically speaking, the poultry available commercially should not contain an excess of hormones. Moreover, patients can buy poultry that is labelled as having no added hormones should they have extra concerns.

  • Can having a lot of vitamins reduce the risks of getting cancer

Consuming a normal level of vitamins A, C and E from natural sources can help wound healing; however, research studies have demonstrated that having a variety of vitamin supplements does not help reduce the risk of developing cancer. Some studies have even pointed out that in some cases, an extremely high level of vitamin supplementation can increase the risk of getting cancer.

  • Should patients take trametes versicolor (yunzhi) or ganoderma lucidum (reishi mushroom) as part of their diet for nutrition?

Patients should take care with what they eat during their cancer treatment, as chemotherapy increases the liver’s workload and their liver will be further weakened by increasing the amount of bilirubin from the extra consumption of nutritional supplements. Previously there have been cases where excessive amounts of these fungi were consumed which led to a suspension in their treatment due to elevated liver enzymes making it impossible to continue treatment.

In theory, and according to the clinical reports from the American Cancer Society, the PSP and PSK contained in turkey tail and bracket mushrooms can strengthen the immune system; and some of the ingredients may even have anti-cancer properties, but their effectiveness in preventing cancer awaits further investigation.

  • Is eating “superfoods” good for health?

“Superfoods” is simply a marketing buzzword. Foods like asparagus, green power juice and flaxseed have become popular around the world over the past few years. In general, having these natural foods in your diet will not cause harm to your health, but remember: “less is more”. One patient had too much asparagus for a period of time during their cancer treatment and developed an abnormal increase in potassium, which also affected the progress of the treatment.

Should cancer patients try a ketogenic diet

A ketogenic is a diet very high in fat with 90% of fat consumption including “friendly” unsaturated fats such as those in olive oil, nuts and avocados. It also encourages the consumption of “bad” saturated fats such as palm oil, coconut oil, lard and butter.

 

Ketogenic diets are typically used to treat children who suffer from epilepsy to minimize the frequency of their seizure episodes. The benefits of a ketogenic diet on cancer remain unsubstantiated. However, scientific theories seem to point to the harm that it could do to cancer patients instead. Given that patients with liver and colorectal cancer have a weakened digestive and immune system, the over-consumption of fats can lead to digestive issues which can cause a general deterioration in their condition. There are also research studies that show that an excessive amount of fat consumption can lead to a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

Side Effects of Cancer Treatment and Nutritional Deficiency

Although the side effects of cancer treatments have been greatly reduced due to the significant advances in chemotherapeutic drugs and radiotherapy technology, yet side effects are still present, albeit in a lesser form. Side effects such as nutritional deficiency and fatigue are felt frequently among cancer patients which adversely impacts the progress and outcome of the cancer treatment.

80%

DEPENDING ON THE STAGE AND TYPE OF THE TUMOUR, 80% OF CANCER PATIENTS HAVE EXPERIENCED SOME FORM OF NUTRITIONAL DEFICIENCY.

20%

OVER 20% OF DEATHS IN CANCER PATIENTS WERE CAUSED BY MALNUTRITION AND FRAILTY, AND NOT DUE TO THE CANCER ITSELF.

5%

MORE THAN 5% OF WEIGHT LOSS INCREASES THE PATIENT’S RISK OF DEATH.

Fully Supported by Dietitians in the Battle Against Cancer

Our Dietitians strive to provide all kinds of support that patients need during their journey in their fight against cancer. Dietitians closely monitor and assess the patient’s diet and weight before, during and after cancer treatment in an effort to avoid sudden weight loss. They also offer personalized nutrition advice that assists patients in replenishing the nutrition they need while maintaining their overall quality of life.

CONSULTATION WITH OUR PROFESSIONAL DIETITIAN

Wonder how you should plan for your diet during cancer therapy period? Got a headache digesting every piece of nutritional information here? We offer nutrition consultation services to answer each and every question you have! During the 15-minute free nutrition consultation for patients who are undergoing treatment at HKIOC and HKAOC, our on-site dietitian, Edward Li (U.S. Registered Dietitian) will:

  1. Assess your health condition through various tests;
  2. Provide personalized nutrition advice that fulfils the requirements of your treatment;
  3. Explain how to choose the food that helps you relieve the discomfort that arises from cancer therapy and those to help you enhance your physical stamina;
  4. Eliminate misconceptions regarding diets and cancer.

If you are interested, please reach out to one of our staff members for an appointment.

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References:

 

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  2. Warren S. The immediate cause of death in cancer. Am J Med Sci 1932; 184:610-615 ;
  3. Tisdale MJ. Cachexia in Cancer patients. Nature Rev Cancer 2002; 2:862-871
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  7. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/hp/mushrooms-pdq