Proper Nutrition During Recovery

Recovering from cancer and cancer treatments is extremely difficult on the body, and it is important that patients carefully monitor their diets to ensure that they are receiving proper nutrition.  While a new study or news report seems to come out every day promising cancer-killing properties or miraculous recovery, the American Cancer Society recommends that cancer patients do not make radical changes to their diets based on a single study.  Often, this research is reported merely because it is new or shocking, not necessarily because the quality of the study is high and it is backed up by other research.

There are, however, some healthy choices that cancer patients can make to aid their recovery.  While heavy alcohol intake has been linked to mouth, throat, liver, and breast cancer, moderate amounts of alcohol may not be a problem, even during treatment.  However, patients with mouth sores or at risk of developing mouth sores – for example, those receiving head and neck radiation – should avoid even the small amount of alcohol in mouthwash.  While there is little evidence to suggest that a high-fat diet specifically affects the severity of cancer, it is wise to limit fat intake to prevent a rise in cholesterol or blood pressure, as well as cardiovascular disease.

While the American Cancer Society does not endorse specific dietary supplements, it does recommend a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.  These foods contain anti-oxidants and fiber that have been shown to lower risk of certain types of cancer – but only when eaten as whole foods, not taken in pill form.   Taking anti-oxidant supplements that contain greater than the FDA’s recommended Daily Value is discouraged, as it is unclear how these chemicals may interact with the patient’s other forms of treatment.

Standard cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can lower the patient’s ability to fight other diseases, so it is important to observe food safety rules such as washing hands as well as fruits and vegetables.  Keeping foods at the proper temperatures, thoroughly cooking meat, and keeping raw meat and meat juices away from other foods will reduce the risk of infection for those with weakened immune systems.

Finally, though many nutrients such as fats and sugars have not been shown to cause or worsen cancer on their own, obesity has been repeatedly linked not only to the development of cancer, but also its recurrence and the odds of the cancer proving fatal.  However, the good news is that maintaining a healthy weight will not only lower the risk of cancer and improve life expectancy, but also lower risk of many other chronic diseases.


American Cancer Society