DIET IN CANCER
There is a Hippocratic principle that states: "Let your medicine be your food and your food be your medicine." In other words, eating right will keep your body in good condition. Cancer patients find it even more important to eat right - during treatment, their dietary intake can literally become a matter of life and death.
Surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy are the most common treatments designed to stop the spread of cancer by killing and/or removing cancerous cells. Unfortunately, in the process of radiation therapy and chemotherapy, many of the body's healthy cells are also damaged or destroyed.
During these treatments the body is working unusually hard: fighting the cancer cells, and attending to the damage to healthy cells caused by the therapy by repairing and replacing already-damaged cells. The strain of these combined tasks is considerable, and the body requires a proportionally higher amount of nutrients just to maintain standard body functions. Those same nutrients are also needed as building blocks for the functions that will repair all the collateral cellular damage caused by therapy which may be distant from the actual site of treatment. If there aren't enough nutrients to go around, this will lead to malnutrition, a condition where the body is not taking in enough of the right kind of nutrients, forcing it to take them from stores in the fat or actually breaking down existing muscle tissue to obtain what is needed.
Malnutrition is very dangerous -- many studies have shown that weight loss drastically increases the mortality rate for most types of cancer while also lowering the response to chemotherapy. Of course, the reverse also seems to be true - in fact, a diet rich in the proper nutrients can often lessen the side effects of treatment and may even shorten recovery time. In most cases, malnutrition can be prevented by simply eating enough foods rich in vitamins and anti-oxidants. For patients with oral cancer, eating properly can pose a difficult problem.
The proper nutrients assist the body in rebuilding damaged cells, but anti-oxidants may actually fight the cancer directly. An article published last year in the International Journal of Integrative Medicine states that an increase in survival has been demonstrated for patients who received Vitamin A or other anti-oxidants in combination with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. This finding was observed for patients with oral and several other kinds of cancer. Patients who were given beta-carotene and other anti-oxidants while undergoing surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation lived longer, with an increase in disease-free intervals.
What not to eat is nearly as important. Cutting back on salt, fat, alcohol and sugar intake is essential. Not only are these "empty calories", but in some cases they may assist the continuing development of cancer in the body. For instance, researchers now feel that some tumors are primarily obligate glucose metabolizers; in other words, these tumors are "sugar feeders". In one animal study, there was even a clear dose-dependent response, the more sugar in the diet, the quicker the cancer metastasized in the test animals.
Those experiencing nausea or loss of appetite should press themselves to eat small frequent meals. Another method is to time meals to coincide with periods during the day when the patient is feeling best (generally, patients tend to feel better and have improved appetites early in the day with a progressive decrease in appetite as the day progresses.) Avoid strong aromas if they contribute to the feeling of nausea, such as serving cold rather than hot foods, since odors come from the rising steam.
Cancer patients may also consider nutritional supplements, especially for the times when they feel they cannot eat enough. Although certain nutrient supplements may not work as well as whole foods, there is a general feeling that taking recommended doses of certain vitamins can assist the process in most cases. Many of these are available in liquid or powder form which can be incorporated into a blender drink.
No matter what the symptoms of the treatment, a person with cancer should try to maintain a positive attitude toward maintaining their diet. A change in one's diet "because the doctor told me to" is the easiest and least helpful attitude, while eating better "because I want to do everything I can to beat this thing" is much more productive. After all, any cancer patient who tries to keep a good diet is contributing to his or her treatment as much as the medical professional. This is one area in which the patient can feel some sense of control and involvement; two things that many feel are lost during the treatment process. Also, keeping a good nutritional state can help people with cancer feel and look better and can help them maintain the physical strength to optimize day-to-day life. Because, in the end, this battle is fought day-to-day, and the best assistance the patient can provide is good nutrition and a positive attitude..