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Cancer and Nutrition
What Every Caregiver Should Know

by Hillary Wright, Staff Writer

(Page 1 of 7)

“If he would only eat more, I know he’d gain the weight and strength he needs to get better,” says a concerned wife speaking with her husband’s doctor. The husband tells his doctor, “I force myself to eat at times, just to make my wife less worried. But I have no appetite and after only a bite or two, I’m so full that I can’t continue.” This scenario is typical of a condition known as “cancer-related weight loss.”

Many factors can influence the outcome of a person’s chances of surviving cancer, but in recent years, the role of maintaining optimal nutritional health has become increasingly important in successfully managing this disease. Nutrition is one area of cancer care where caregivers can play an important role. It’s crucial for both the caregiver and the one being cared for to know what to expect about every aspect of the disease, especially the impact of cancer-related weight loss and the nutritional challenges and needs that may arise.

A caregiver may try to tempt a person living with cancer into eating by preparing favorite foods and desserts. On the other hand, this well intentioned effort may cause a loved one to feel nagged by demands to eat.

“Forcing a person with cancer to eat can have a negative impact. It places additional stress on the situation and eating becomes less enjoyable. Ultimately, the caregiver’s attempt to help can backfire,” suggests Denae Garrett, M.S., R.D., Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, Irvine, California. “However, most people with cancer can identify times of the day or night when they feel best and may have a better appetite. It’s a good idea to use those times to prioritize eating. Remember to keep meal times flexible — it’s ok to eat breakfast foods at 4pm or have a midnight snack.”

It’s true that people with cancer may feel better after eating something, so it helps to focus on what they were able to eat, rather than what was left uneaten.

By better understanding cancer-related weight loss, a caregiver can help improve the quality of life of someone with cancer through increased strength and activity resulting from a good, solid nutritional program designed by the caregiving team.

When Weight Loss Isn’t Desirable

Caregivers have an opportunity to influence the diet of people with cancer, and recognizing cancer-related weight loss is often the first step. Many times the initial symptom of cancer is weight loss, so it’s important to have a person with cancer assessed by a medical professional in order to specifically identify the causes for the unexplained weight loss.

 

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