Jillian McKeeComplementary Medicine Advocate
Bringing a wealth of personal and professional experience to the organization, Jillian McKee has worked as the Complementary Medicine Advocate at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance since June of 2009. Jillian spends most her time on outreach efforts and spreading information about the integration of complementary and alternative medicine when used in conjunction with traditional cancer treatment.
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Cancer takes a lot out of someone and patients need special diet plans to help them cope with their disease. Not all cancers are the same and likewise, nutritional needs vary by patient. Women preparing for breast cancer surgery need foods that provide strength. Those facing treatment for mesothelioma need foods that fight treatment side effects.
All cancer patients have a high risk for nutrient deficiencies. The cancer itself causes some of these deficiencies. More often, deficiencies result from physical changes caused by rigorous treatments like radiation and chemotherapy.
Unfortunately, cancer directly affects a patient’s nutritional status. Cancers change the way the body metabolizes fats, carbohydrates and proteins. As a result of metabolism changes, food no longer tastes the same and patients often lose their appetite. Cancer-related anorexia, a very common treatment symptom, is likely caused by physical changes and mental responses.
Although the body uses more energy during cancer treatment, a lost appetite usually leads to weight loss and muscle wasting. To prevent these problems, most cancer patients require high-calorie meals. Many doctors prescribe a high-protein diet that is low in fat content.
Scientists and researchers have conducted numerous studies on the link between nutrition and cancer. The same foods that can assist cancer prevention also help during cancer treatment. Fruits, vegetables, grains and beans are the mainstays in a cancer-fighting diet. These natural foods contain healthy fiber, antioxidants and other important nutrients.
The medical treatments that destroy aggressive cancer cells produce unwanted and unpleasant side effects for many patients. The symptoms vary by the cancer type, treatment method and affected area of the body. Cancer nutrition plans are tailor-made diets that address some of the side effects of cancer treatment. These special diets cannot cure cancer or replace the drugs prescribed for treatment, but they offer welcome relief for some symptoms.
Thick liquids and semi-solid foods are good choices for patients with chewing or swallowing problems. Thickeners make liquids easier to swallow and prevent aspiration. High-calorie, high-protein shakes and foods may prevent the weight loss and muscle wasting associated with cancer treatments. Frequent snacks and small meals provide nutrition throughout the day.
Eating nutritious foods right before or after treatment may ease nausea, vomiting and diarrhea symptoms. However, it may also lessen the pain associated with chemotherapy and other treatments.
To combat loss of appetite, patients can adjust their diets to include appealing foods. If necessary, doctors can prescribe drugs to stimulate the appetite. Because each cancer experience is unique, healthy nutrition means different things to different patients. Doctors and dietitians should work with patients to develop diets that meet specific nutritional needs. Good cancer diets allow patients to receive the most treatment benefits possible.