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Cancer Health Center

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



Monoclonal antibodies, which are used to block cancer-cell receptors for growth-stimulating factors, may cause a cascade of symptoms; however, the symptoms most likely to impact nutritional status are fever, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.[18] Interferon (a nonspecific immunotherapy) has had the noted nutrition-related side effects of anorexia, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.[18] Interleukin-2, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the single-agent treatment of metastatic renal cell cancer, can also cause symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.[18,19] Response to interleukin-2 treatment varies; some patients gain weight, and some require nutritional support.[19] However, most patients taking interleukin gain weight. Finally, granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor, a very common therapy used to increase the production of white blood cells, may also cause fever, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.[18]

If ignored, these symptoms can cause gradual or drastic weight loss (depending on the severity of the symptoms), which may lead to malnutrition. Malnutrition can complicate the expected healing and recovery process (see the Nutritional Suggestions for Symptom Management section).

Hemopoietic and Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplantation

Hemopoietic and stem cell transplant patients have special nutritional requirements.[20] Before their transplant, patients receive high-dose chemotherapy and may also be treated with total-body irradiation (TBI).[21] These treatments, in addition to medications used during transplantation, frequently result in nutritional side effects, which may affect patients' ability to consume an adequate diet. The goal of nutritional support should be the maintenance of nutritional status and protein stores. In addition, transplant patients are at very high risk for neutropenia, an abnormally small number of neutrophils in the blood, that makes them susceptible to multiple infections.[22,23]

To reduce the risk of infections related to stem cell transplantation, most healthcare setting guidelines recommend only cooked and processed foods and restrict raw vegetables and fresh fruits that could cause a food-related infection. Specific dietary restrictions and their duration depend on the type of transplant and the cancer site. In addition to specific dietary restrictions, food safety guidelines should be reviewed and stressed with all transplant patients.

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