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Cancer Health Center

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

Screening and assessment are done before cancer treatment begins, and assessment continues during treatment.

Screening is used to look for nutrition risks in a patient who has no symptoms. This can help find out if the patient is likely to become malnourished, so that steps can be taken to prevent it.

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Assessment checks the nutritional health of the patient and helps to decide if nutrition therapy is needed to correct a problem.

Screening and assessment may include questions about the following:

  • Weight changes over the past year.
  • Changes in the amount and type of food eaten compared to what is usual for the patient.
  • Problems that have affected eating, such as loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, mouth sores, dry mouth, changes in taste and smell, or pain.
  • Ability to walk and do other activities of daily living (dressing, getting into or out of a bed or chair, taking a bath or shower, and using the toilet).

A physical exam is also done to check the body for general health and signs of disease. The doctor will look for loss of weight, fat, and muscle, and for fluid buildup in the body.

Finding and treating nutrition problems early may improve the patient's prognosis (chance of recovery).

Early nutrition screening and assessment help find problems that may affect how well the patient's body can deal with the effects of cancer treatment. Patients who are underweight or malnourished may not be able to get through treatment as well as a well-nourished patient. Finding and treating nutrition problems early can help the patient gain weight or prevent weight loss, decrease problems with the treatment, and help recovery.

A healthcare team of nutrition specialists will continue to watch for nutrition problems.

A nutrition support team will check the patient's nutritional health often during cancer treatment and recovery. The team may include the following specialists:

  • Physician.
  • Nurse.
  • Registered dietitian.
  • Social worker.
  • Psychologist.

A patient whose religion doesn't allow eating certain foods may want to talk with a religious advisor about allowing those foods during cancer treatment and recovery.

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