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Eating well can help you feel better and stay stronger during and after cancer treatment. Patients who eat well and maintain their weight often tolerate treatment side effects better. And good nutrition also helps the body replace blood cells and tissues broken down by treatment.

No diet, food or supplement is known to prevent, cause, treat or cure blood cancers. However, eating the right foods can make a difference in your health and how you feel.

A healthy lifestyle plays a key overall role in keeping the body strong, supporting the immune system (the cells and proteins that defend the body against infection) and reducing risk for some diseases, such as certain kinds of heart disease and some cancers. Most nutrition professionals agree that a good diet for everyone, including cancer survivors, is a varied, balanced diet of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables; whole grains; and low-fat proteins, such as fish, lean meats and poultry.

Good nutrition should be part of a healthy lifestyle that also includes:

  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • drinking water or other noncaffeinated beverages
  • daily activity, such as walking
  • relaxing (managing stress)
  • getting enough sleep
  • not using tobacco or abusing drugs and alcohol

Evaluating Nutrition Information

Nutrition and cancer research is still in its early stages. You may find it difficult to sort out dependable, science-based advice from misinformation and myth. Before you try any supplement or an herb on your own, talk with your doctor about any risk of it interfering with your cancer treatment. For example:

  • Omega-3 fatty acid supplements can increase the blood-thinning effects of aspirin or warfarin.
  • St. John's wort, an herbal product used to treat depression, reduces the effectiveness of imatinib (a drug used to treat chronic myeloid leukemia and Philadelphia-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia). Talk with your doctor about safe treatment options for depression.

Cancer Drug Therapy and Nutrition

Some drugs used to treat cancer can have food interactions that your treatment team will inform you about. When you begin a new treatment or start using a new drug, tell your doctor about any food allergies you have and ask:

  • Will I have any special nutritional needs while taking this drug?
  • Do I need to take this drug with food? Without food?
  • Are there any known food-drug interactions of this treatment?
  • Are there any known vitamin- or supplement-drug interactions of this treatment?
  • Are there any foods or beverages I can't have while in treatment?
  • Do I need to drink extra water or other fluids while in treatment or while taking this drug?
  • Can I drink alcoholic beverages, including beer and wine, while in treatment or while taking this drug?
  • What if I vomit immediately after taking my drug?

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Treatment side effects

Dietitians and Nutritionists

You may want to ask your doctor to refer you to a dietitian or a nutritionist for specific advice and guidance. A registered dietitian (R.D.) has completed academic and accredited internship experience, successfully passed the national credentialing exam and maintains ongoing continuing education and professional development in accordance with the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Dietitians may refer to themselves as nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians. The terms "nutritionist" and "dietitian" are often used interchangeably.

You can also find a registered dietitian through the American Dietetic Association. And remember to check your health plan to see whether it provides coverage for a dietitian's services.

A dietitian or nutritionist can:

  • develop an eating plan that meets your needs
  • help you manage changes in appetite and weight
  • help you deal with treatment side effects
  • advise you about foods, vitamins, herbs and supplements
  • develop a personalized cancer survivorship wellness plan

Your doctor may refer you to a dietitian if you're not eating and drinking enough for extended periods. The dietitian can help with tube feedings of prescribed supplements high in calories and protein until you can resume normal eating. Patients who have had a stem cell transplant generally receive nutrition intravenously.

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last updated on Wednesday, March 16, 2011
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