Good nutrition choices help a patient with cancer in many ways:
Keeping you in treatment, without a break in delivery until your entire course is completed.
Maintaining good nutrition status during surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapies can improve your tolerance of the treatment and even your ability to complete the entire course of planned treatments. When patients are “failing to thrive” physicians often need to hold the next round of treatment, giving the patient a “treatment break”. This can sound like a great idea to many patients, but it actually means that they are not getting the treatment delivered in the way that the research studies found would best shrink cancer tumors.
Avoiding rapid weight loss that affects strength, quality of life and immune function.
A rapid weight loss, of two or more pounds per week can be interpreted by the body as a famine. After all, if the food was available, you’d be eating it, right? During famines, our bodies have evolved to burn all the nutrients coming in as calories, in order to keep all the essential activities going. Ultimately, you need to be alive when the crops are harvested and food is once again available.
In the meantime, protein is not saved to be used to heal tissue, make the cells of the immune system, or enzymes that work within our bodies. Of course, these things must go on as well, and the body will go to the muscle for the protein stores that it can provide. However, it doesn’t know how long the famine will last, and it breaks down as little protein as possible, in order to make minimal amounts of the new proteins it must build.
Bottom line, making good choices in nutrition and lifestyle helps to:
- Maintain, or at least slow loss of muscle mass and strength
- Allow you to continue to do the activities that give life meaning, also known as quality of life
- Reduce your risk of infections by ensuring enough protein is available to make the cells of the immune system. This is the issue in third world countries that causes so many children to die of an infection that our children would survive.
- Finish treatments! And, where cancer treatments successfully eliminate tumors, good nutrition and lifestyle choices may help limit the risk of recurrence or a new primary cancer.