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The Importance of Nutrition for the Blood Cancer Patient

Good nutrition can help cancer patients maintain strength, keep healthy body weight, and decrease side effects during and after treatment. Nutrition is a process when food is taken in and used by the body for growth and to replace tissue. The effects of cancer and cancer treatments can make it hard to eat well due to changes in taste, smell, appetite, and the ability to eat. A lack of key nutrients can result in malnutrition and cause the patient to become weak, tired, and unable to fight infection. The goal is to eat the right amount of protein and calories to support healing, fighting infection, and having enough energy.

The side effects of cancer treatment

The treatment for blood cancer may include any of the following: Chemotherapy and hormone therapy, radiation therapy, surgery, immunotherapy, and a stem cell transplant. Side effects of these treatments are reported to include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, sores in mouth or throat, changes in the way food tastes, constipation, diarrhea, tiredness, and fever.

During my blood cancer treatment, I only experienced severe fatigue and due to my husband’s cooking and attention, I never lost a pound. I would eat and then sleep.

For patients who experience a loss of appetite, the following are suggested:

  • Eating foods high in calories and protein such as beans, chicken, fish, meat, yogurt, or eggs.
  • Sip only small amounts of liquids during meals.
  • Drink milkshakes, smoothies, juices, or soups.
  • Eat small meals and healthy snacks often throughout the day.
  • Be as active as possible to encourage an appetite.

For patients who experience nausea or vomiting consider:

  • Eating foods that are bland, soft, and easy to digest, rather than heavy meals.
  • Eat dry foods such crackers, bread sticks and toast throughout the day.
  • Try foods that are easy on your stomach such as white toast, plain yogurt and clear broth.
  • Avoid food with strong smells.
  • Consider eating 5 or 6 small meals every day instead of 3 large meals.
  • Try not to skip a meal as an empty stomach may make your nausea worse.
  • Sit up or lie with your head raised for an hour after eating.

For patients with a dry mouth, consider:

  • Moisten foods with sauce, gravy, or salad dressing.
  • Chew gum or suck on hard candy, ice pops, or ice chips.
  • Sip water throughout the day.
  • Avoid foods that can hurt your mouth such as spicy, sour, salty, hard, or crunchy foods.
  • Rinse your mouth frequently. Speak with your dentist about products to coat, protect and moisten your mouth. My dentist recommended a non-alcohol mouthwash which provided comfort.

For patients with mouth sores, the following are suggested:

  • Consider milkshakes, scrambled eggs, and custards which are easy to chew.
  • Cook all food until soft and tender.
  • Suck on ice cubes to soothe and numb your mouth.
  • You may want to avoid citrus foods, spicy and salty food, raw vegetables, or sharp and crunchy foods.

A healthy diet is an essential part of cancer treatment and eating the right foods before, during, and after treatment will help the cancer patient become stronger, rebuild tissues, promote healing and growth of new blood cells, and help build your immunity to fight against infections. Any concerns and issues with your nutritional intake should be discussed with your healthcare team.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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