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Nutrition in Cancer Care (PDQ®): Supportive care - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Nutrition Therapy


Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) is also used to assess nutritional status, as determined by body composition.[12] The BIA measures electrical resistance on the basis of lean body mass and body fat composition. Single BIA measures show body cell mass, extracellular tissue, and fat as a percent of ideal, whereas sequential measurements can be used to show body composition changes over time. Because of cost and accessibility, BIA is currently in limited use and often unavailable in most ambulatory settings.

Taste and smell defects are common in cancer patients and may affect nutritional status. The relative importance of chemosensory changes to the etiology of malnutrition was assessed in 66 patients with advanced cancer. Some degree of chemosensory abnormality was reported by 86% of patients; approximately one-half of patients reported interference with enjoying favorite foods. Poor appetite, nausea, early satiety, and chemosensory abnormalities presented concurrently. These findings were significantly related to decreased energy intake. Further research is required to design nutritional interventions for these chemosensory problems.[13]

Because nutritional status can quickly become compromised from illness and decreased dietary intake, and because nutritional well-being plays an important role in treatment and recovery from cancer, early screening and intervention as well as close monitoring and evaluation throughout all phases of cancer treatment and recovery are imperative in the pursuit of health for the individual with cancer.

Goals of Nutrition Therapy

Optimal nutritional status is an important goal in the management of individuals diagnosed with cancer. Although nutrition therapy recommendations may vary throughout the continuum of care, maintenance of adequate intake is important. Therefore, a waiver from most dietary restrictions observed during religious holidays is granted for those undergoing active treatment. Individuals with cancer are encouraged to speak to their religious leaders regarding this matter before a holiday.

Whether patients are undergoing active therapy, recovering from cancer therapy, or in remission and striving to avoid cancer recurrence, the benefit of optimal caloric and nutrient intake is well documented.[14,15,16]

The goals of nutrition therapy are to accomplish the following:

  • Prevent or reverse nutrient deficiencies.
  • Preserve lean body mass.
  • Help patients better tolerate treatments.
  • Minimize nutrition-related side effects and complications.
  • Maintain strength and energy.
  • Protect immune function, decreasing the risk of infection.
  • Aid in recovery and healing.
  • Maximize quality of life.

Patients with advanced cancer can receive nutritional support even when nutrition therapy can do little for weight gain.[17,18] Such support may help accomplish the following:

  • Lessen side effects.
  • Reduce risk of infection (if given enterally).
  • Reduce asthenia.
  • Improve well-being.

In individuals with advanced cancer, the goal of nutrition therapy should not be weight gain or reversal of malnutrition, but rather comfort and symptom relief.[19]

Nutrition continues to play an integral role for individuals whose cancer has been cured or who are in remission.[20] A healthy diet helps prevent or control comorbidities such as heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. Following a healthful nutrition program might help prevent another malignancy from developing.


WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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