Adapting the diet of oncology patients according to the stage of their illness and treatment ensures a good nutritional state. If the patient is well nourished, there will be less risk of malnutrition, their immune system will be stronger and treatments will be more effective.
The most important aspects to take into account in order to carry out a personalised nutritional plan are: the type of tumour and its stage, the characteristics of each patient and the side effects of the treatment to be followed.
We must bear in mind that each tumour is different, so a tumour located in the digestive tract is not the same as a breast tumour, for example. We must also take into account that each patient is different in terms of tastes, age, sex… And lastly, we must consider that treatments do not produce the same side effects in all people.
Improving or maintaining the patient’s nutritional status by adapting their diet to the adverse effects both in the short and long term is the main objective of oncological dietary personalisation. Thus, a breast cancer patient taking hormone treatment should focus on avoiding the accumulation of abdominal fat, as well as adapting their diet to the osteo-muscular effects that this treatment may produce. On the other hand, in the case of a patient with digestive cancer, the focus should be on avoiding weight/muscle loss or treating the possible intestinal dysbiosis that the treatment may cause.
In order to draw up a nutritional plan, as much information as possible must be obtained about the patient and their illness through a clinical history, a dietary-nutritional study, as well as knowledge of their habits and lifestyle. With this information, the objectives to be worked on with the patient (main and secondary) are established, as well as correcting any possible errors observed. Some of the aspects to be included are: appropriate cooking techniques, recommendations to apply the day before/day of the treatment session such as chemotherapy, menus, recipes, preparation of homemade supplements, techniques for enriching intakes, etc.
The oncology patient is a very special patient, as he/she is at the greatest risk of malnutrition, both due to energy deficit and excess. Weight and muscle loss as well as fat gain can have consequences on their disease, quality of life and survival.
The following are some of the reasons why a proper nutrition plan is important in this type of patient:
1- Prevention of malnutrition. Malnutrition is a common complication of this disease and can negatively affect the body’s ability to help fight it. Adequate nutrition can prevent malnutrition and maintain the body’s strength and energy during cancer treatment.
2- Maintaining a stable weight. Weight loss is common in these patients, which can weaken the body and decrease the body’s ability to respond to treatment. Adequate nutrition can help to maintain a healthy weight, avoiding abdominal fat gain as occurs in some types of tumours associated with hormonal treatments that carry a risk of loss of efficacy, as well as a risk of relapses in the disease.
3- Strengthening the immune system. An appropriate diet can help strengthen the immune system, which is often weakened during treatment.
4- Improved wound healing. Surgery is a common treatment in oncological treatment. Adequate protein intake can help speed up the healing process and reduce the pain and discomfort associated with surgery.
5- Reduction of the side effects of treatments. The treatments applied in oncological disease often cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, obesity, dysbiosis, stomatitis, xerostomia, constipation, dysphagia, etc. An appropriate and adapted diet can help reduce these side effects and improve the patient’s quality of life during treatment.
Just as important as the personalised regimen is its follow-up. It is necessary to check that the objectives are being met, to adapt the plan to the changes that may appear in the patient and to the possible adverse effects that may arise. A weekly check-up should be carried out for a variable period of one to three months.
In summary, we can conclude that:
1- Cancer disease and the treatments used to treat it can affect the body’s ability to obtain the nutrients it needs, which can lead to malnutrition.
2- It is very important for cancer patients to have the right diet to maintain their health and well-being both physically and emotionally during treatment, thus improving their quality of life.
3- Personalised nutrition is a very important part of the cancer treatment process.
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