Cancer Basics: Understanding its Effects

Understanding cancer-1

Cancer Basics: Understanding its Effects

Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, accounting for an estimated 9.6 million deaths, or 1 in 6 deaths, in 2018. Lung, prostate, colorectal, stomach and liver cancer are the most common types of cancer in men, while breast, colorectal, lung, cervical and thyroid cancer are the most common among women.

Cancer is a disease where body cells grow uncontrollably and spread to other parts of the body.

Normally human cells grow and multiply to form new cells as the body needs them. When these cells become old or damaged, they die and new cells take their place.

Sometimes this process gets hampered, abnormal and damaged cells grow and multiply when they shouldn’t. These cells form tumours (lumps of tissues). These tumours when cancerous spread to other organs of the body to form new tumours by a process known as metastasis a major cause of death from cancer

The cancer burden continues to grow globally, exerting tremendous physical, emotional and financial strain on individuals, families, communities and health systems. Many health systems in low- and middle-income countries are least prepared to manage this burden, and large numbers of cancer patients globally do not have access to timely quality diagnosis and treatment. In countries where health systems are strong, survival rates of many types of cancers are improving thanks to accessible early detection, quality treatment and survivorship care. (WHO)

The Importance of Nutrition During Cancer Treatment

  • Role of Nutrition:
    Nutrition is vital for growth, health, and tissue repair. A balanced diet provides essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and water.
  • Tailored Nutrition Goals:
    Individuals undergoing cancer treatment require personalized nutrition plans based on their cancer type, stage, and other medical conditions.
  • The Role of the Clinical Dietitian:
    Dietitians work closely with patients, families, and healthcare teams to manage dietary needs during and after cancer treatment.

Challenges of Cancer Treatment on Nutrition

  • Nutritional Side Effects of Cancer Treatment:
    Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery, can affect nutrition by causing appetite loss, changes in taste, and digestive issues.
  • Understanding Malnutrition:
    Malnutrition, a condition resulting from inadequate nutrient intake or absorption, can weaken the body and decrease quality of life.
    Anorexia is the loss of appetite or desire to eat. It is a common Symptom and the most common cause of malnutrition in people with cancer. Anorexia may occur early in the disease or later if the cancer grows or spreads. Some people already have anorexia when they are diagnosed with cancer. Most people who have Advanced cancer will have anorexia.

    Cachexia is a condition marked by weakness, weight loss, and fat and muscle loss. It is common in people with tumours that affect eating and digestion. It can occur in people with cancer who are eating well but are not storing fat and muscle because of tumour growth.

    Some tumours change the way the body uses certain nutrients. The body’s use of protein, carbohydrates, and fat may change when tumours are in the stomach, intestines, or head and neck. A person may seem to be eating enough, but the body may not be able to absorb all the nutrients from the food.

    People with cancer may have cachexia and anorexia at the same time (CAS), causing weight loss and decreased lean body mass. Treating high-risk patients to prevent this condition, rather than treating those already diagnosed with CAS, may lead to better outcomes. Olanzapine, a drug used to treat certain mental disorders, has side effects including increased appetite and weight gain. It is being studied in the treatment of CAS with mixed success. More clinical trials are needed to develop the best possible therapies for CAS.

Addressing Nutrition Challenges

  • Importance of Dietary Adjustment:
    Since cancer treatment can lead to fluctuations in appetite and body weight, it’s important to pay close attention to your diet. In addition to helping you maintain a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet during chemotherapy or radiation therapy can:

    • Help manage treatment side effects
    • Increase energy
    • Increase muscle tone
    • Preserve immune function
    • Reduce inflammation
  • Foods to Include During Treatment:
    Plant-based proteins, healthy fats, whole grains, and nutrient-rich foods are beneficial during cancer treatment.

    Plant-based proteins:
    Some of the best foods to eat during chemotherapy or other cancer treatments are plant-based proteins. They offer the highest levels of vitamins and minerals. eating lots of vegetables as well as beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. If you do eat animal proteins, choose lean options like chicken or fish.

    Healthy fats: Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats also have health benefits. Avocados, olive oil, grapeseed oil and walnuts are all high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help combat inflammation and improve cardiovascular health.

    Healthy carbs: When choosing carbohydrates, opt for foods that are minimally processed, like whole wheat, bran and oats. These have soluble fibre, which helps maintain good gut bacteria. Soluble fibre also promotes the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which lend a hand to everything from metabolism to cellular repair.

    Vitamins & Minerals: Vitamins and minerals aid our body’s enzymes, boosting immunity and reducing inflammation.

  • Supplementation Considerations:
    Supplements may be necessary if insufficient nutrient intake, but consulting with a Clinical Dietician is crucial to ensure safety and effectiveness.
  • Managing Side Effects Through Diet:
    Adjusting the diet can help alleviate common treatment side effects such as appetite loss, constipation, diarrhoea, and taste changes.

Foods to Avoid
During treatment, it’s best to avoid processed foods and those at risk of causing foodborne illnesses.

By understanding the importance of nutrition and addressing its challenges during cancer treatment, individuals can improve their well-being and resilience in fighting the disease.

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