Diet and the Cancer Patient
When you’re battling cancer, you want to make sure that you do everything possible to support your treatment. You may be going through complicated treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and your own actions can have a significant impact on how well your treatment goes. In particular, a healthy diet can be an important tool in your fight against cancer. Certain nutrients can affect tumors and your health during cancer treatment.
What Your Diet Can and Cannot Do
• Your diet can reduce your risk for developing some kinds of cancers, but according to the American Cancer Society, it cannot prevent cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight also lowers your risk for cancer.
• A healthy diet can support you during cancer treatment, but not cure it. If you have cancer, your diet should provide enough calories, protein and other nutrients to give your body more strength to fight cancer and sustain treatments. For example, x-ray radiation therapy can damage healthy tissue, so you need to eat enough protein for your body to be able to repair the damage. Proton therapy is a radiation therapy with fewer side effects, but a good diet still helps you heal faster.
• Your diet can reduce side effects from a tumor, but not get rid of the tumor. Consider a meningioma, which is a benign or malignant tumor in membranes surrounding brain or spine. Symptoms include seizures and headaches from the tumor pressing on blood vessels or the brain. A diet to reduce swelling around the tumor, such as one that fights water retention, can relieve these symptoms.
Healthy Diet Patterns to Follow
• Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to lower your risk of developing many kinds of cancers. These foods help you control your weight and they are full of essential nutrients. Whole grains include oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, pasta and cereals, barley and whole-grain crackers. Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, including vitamins A and C, and support a strong immune system. This helps your body fight cancer cells while you are undergoing therapy.
• Eat less red meat. Choose chicken, fish, tofu and beans instead of fatty beef and pork.
• Vitamin E is an antioxidant vitamin that is necessary for your immune system to effectively fight cancerous cells. Good sources include vegetable oils, nuts, peanuts, carrots and spinach.
• Choose a low-sodium diet: Too much sodium leads to water retention. If you have a meningioma, a low-sodium diet may reduce swelling around the tumor and relieve some of the symptoms due to nerve compression or brain impingement. Choose fresh instead of processed foods, and try adding herbs instead of salt to flavor your food.
• Omega-3 fatty acids suppress inflammation and swelling. They're found in fatty fish and fish oil supplements.
As part of your medical team’s treatment plan when you have cancer, a nutritious diet may help you feel better. Some nutrients may reduce side effects from a tumor, and a balanced overall diet provides nutrients to keep you and your immune system strong during the treatment and healing process. A nutritionist or dietitian with expertise in conditions like yours can help you develop a good diet plan.