Annica Rust

The role of nutrition in my cancer journey

Nutritional care plays a major role in cancer prevention, treatment, survivorship and palliation. The role of optimal nutrition in cancer is in many cases underestimated. Dietary components have such a powerful affect on cells as it can influence the development of cancer by enhancing or inhibiting the formation of cancer cells. Cancer and cancer therapy can influence the digestion, absorption, and metabolism of food. This, in turn, will influence the development and severity of nutrition related symptoms. The nutrition related symptoms you can experience include nausea and vomiting, changes in taste and smell, pain, difficulty in swallowing, sore mouth/throat, dry mouth, constipation, diarrhoea and fatigue. All of these will affect your appetite and/or intake that will increase your risk of developing vitamin and mineral deficiencies and becoming malnourished.

Your nutritional needs as a cancer patient depend on the type and stage of cancer as well as the treatment regime. Almost all cancer patients will have increased protein and energy needs during cancer. Protein requirements are increased to repair the tissue that is damaged by treatment. Dieticians will work out a personalized eating plan according to your specific energy, protein, carbohydrate and fat needs, to prevent muscle loss and to ensure that weight, strength and energy levels are maintained. Individualised nutritional care will further prevent or reverse nutrient deficiencies, and will minimize the nutrition related side effects you might experience and will maximize your quality of life. Some dietary components may interfere with cancer treatment; dieticians will thereof give you guidance on dietary components to avoid during treatment.

When to see a dietician?

All cancer patients can benefit by seeing a dietician but it is essential to book a dietary consultation at a registered dietician during your cancer journey if you experience or have:

  • Unintentional weight loss (5% loss in one month and 10% loss in 6 months)
  • A decrease in food intake, unable to eat normal food or to eat orally
  • Chronic diseases
  • Any of the nutrition related side effects mentioned above

Annica Rust is a dietician practising at the Breast Care Centre in Netcare Milpark Hospital and in Bryanston.