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Why is nutrition important for this people with cancer?

When you have been diagnosed with cancer you may experience some changes to your dietary intake and your weight. This can be caused by the cancer itself, or treatment side effects for cancer such as radiotherapy, chemotherapy or surgery. If you are losing weight, it is important to try to meet your nutritional requirements via in your diet in order to prevent further weight loss.

What symptoms are associated with this condition that can cause reduced dietary intake?

The cancer itself can cause a number of symptoms that may affect your dietary intake. Different cancers depending on which part of the body affected, can cause barriers to eating and drinking. For example, head and neck cancers can cause swallowing problems.

To manage this, some people be may required to change the consistency of their diet. This can reduce enjoyment of food and drink and therefore affect appetite. Stomach cancers may cause a feeling of fullness on eating. This can reduce the amount of food that can be eaten at one time. Bowel cancers may cause constipation or diarrhoea. You may be receiving treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy. These can cause side effects which can affect your dietary intake. These can include nausea, vomiting, taste changes, infections, loss of appetite, fatigue, anaemia, bowel changes, sore mouth and ulcers. If you are experiencing these symptoms, please speak to your healthcare professional or GP for some advice.

Having surgery can impact ability to eat and drink either temporarily or even sometimes permanently. You may need to make adjustments to your diet such as consistency or texture changing of your food, or watching how much you eat at one time. You should be offered advice from the healthcare professionals at the hospital at the time of your surgery. If you need more advice then speak to your healthcare professional who can refer you to a dietitian.

What is malnutrition and how can it affect people with cancer?

Malnutrition is a term used to describe when your body does not get enough nutrients in the diet. A diet lacking in calories, protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins or minerals, can lead to some harmful effects on your health and wellbeing. In cancer, malnutrition is often caused by the disease itself and can start even prior to being diagnosed. It can cause weight loss and muscle wastage and in particular the loss of lean body mass.

Malnutrition can affect your quality of life, reducing ability to tolerate treatments and decreased immunity. Malnutrition can also affect your quality of life and ability to recover which is why it is important to reduce it's affects or prevent it completely.

How to help prevent and/or manage malnutrition?

If you notice that you have lost weight or have had changes to your diet, it is important to try and make some dietary modifications as early as possible. Keep a close check on your weight and be aware of any dietary changes. If it your weight is reducing or your struggling with your diet then, let your GP, healthcare professional worker or consultant at the hospital know. They may give you specific advice or refer you to a dietitian if needed. Increasing your dietary intake can be achieved through eating small and frequent meals, having more milky drinks (malted drinks, milky coffee, hot chocolate), eating more full fat dairy products, and taking some oral nutritional supplements if required. If you are diabetic before you make any changes, please speak with your healthcare professional.

Top Tips to aid dietary intake:

  • Try to eat small and frequent snacks throughout your day. This can help increase your calorie and protein intake. Choose a snack meal instead; cheese on bagel, beans on toast, egg and crumpets, sausage roll, slice quiche.
  • Change your drinks to more nourishing drinks throughout the day e.g., make coffee or hot chocolate with full fat milk rather than water, have smoothies or milkshakes made with yoghurt, cream or ice cream or have a warm glass of full fat milk before going to bed.
  • Leave a snack tin in your living-room. In this try to have range of foods you enjoy e.g., crackers, biscuits, chocolates, nuts, dried fruit, popcorn, cereal bars.
  • Increase the energy of your milk
  • add milk powder or Pro-Cal powder to a pint of full fat milk and mix well. Keep covered in the fridge and use up through the day in your drinks and cereals.
  • Set reminders on your mobile phone to take supplements or extra snacks through the day if you get tired easily or struggle to remember to take them.

Ways to use Pro-Cal™ powder and/or Pro-Cal shot™ to increase nutritional intake?

  • Make homemade milkshakes: add fruit, ice-cream, yoghurt or milk, syrup and add a sachet of Pro-Cal powder or 40ml Pro-Cal shot neutral
  • Tinned or homemade soups: once they are cooked, add a sachet of Pro-Cal powder to your bowl before serving. You can make instant cup-a-soup with milk and add sachet Pro-Cal powder once warm also.
  • Milky coffee or hot chocolate: add a sachet of Pro-Cal powder or 40ml Pro-Cal shot neutral
  • If you are on powdered supplement drinks you can add a sachet of Pro-Cal powder or 40ml Pro-Cal shot neutral to the drink. This increases the calories and protein even more. (please check with your healthcare professional first to ensure this is suitable for you)
  • Porridge: add a sachet of Pro-Cal powder or 40ml Pro-Cal shot neutral once it is cooked. You can also mix a sachet of Pro-Cal powder or 40ml Pro-Cal shot neutral with milk prior to adding to any other cereal.
  • A sachet of Pro-Cal powder or 40ml Pro-Cal shot neutral can be great added to custard, rice pudding, yoghurt, semolina, and tapioca.

This piece was written in conjunction with a specialist oncology dietitian from the UK.

Pro-Cal shot and Pro-Cal powder are Foods for Special Medical Purposes and must be used under strict medical supervision. Suitable from 3 years of age onwards. Pro-Cal shot contains Milk (Milk Protein, Lactose) and Soya (Soya Lecithin). Pro-Cal powder contains Milk (Milk protein, lactose)