Proper Nutrition During Chemotherapy

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Although chemotherapy uses strong drugs to target and kill cancer cells, it also harms healthy cells and can have a number of negative side effects. These drugs, most often administered orally or injected into the blood stream, are most likely to cause harm to the cells of the patient’s hair, bone marrow and digestive tract lining.

Included in the digestive tract are all the bodily systems used to eat, digest and expel remaining food. While the severity and kind of side effect largely depends on the type of drug taken and the technique used to introduce it, any can cause a serious disruption to a patient’s eating pattern. Common side effects associated with chemotherapy include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Taste and smell changes
  • Tenderness or sores in the mouth
  • Bowel habit changes
  • Fatigue
  • Low white blood cell count

While not everyone undergoing chemotherapy will experience these side effects, it remains important to report those that do occur to a doctor. Medical professionals can suggest a variety of methods to curb these side effects, including medications, self-care practices and dietary changes. Dietary changes can aid patients suffering from digestive tract issues by helping them feel better, recover and heal quicker, decrease their infection risk, increase strength and vigor, maintain a healthy weight and tolerate the side effects of treatment.

Chemotherapy Nutrition Tips

Although chemotherapy treatment typically occurs at an outpatient facility and can last as little as a few minutes, the procedure can also extend many hours. Therefore, it’s important for patients to plan ahead when receiving treatment and bring a small meal or snack to help them get through longer stays. In addition, most patients have found that eating before treatment helps them fight the fatigue that frequently occurs both during and after treatment.

In addition, unless otherwise indicated by a doctor, patients should maintain a balanced diet consisting of high amounts of protein, which helps boost energy. However, because eating regularly can be challenging, patients can try eating smaller, more frequent meals to get the needed nutrition. Patients should also avoid difficult to digest foods, like those that are fried or greasy. Staying hydrated is also very important and patients should drink eight to ten eight-ounce glasses of water each day.

Because shopping and cooking can be difficult, especially for those undergoing chemotherapy, patients should also not hesitate to ask for help from family and friends. Those without someone to help out can receive delivered meals or eat at a community or senior center. Above all, it remains important for patients undergoing this treatment to take every step possible to ensure their continued health during this procedure, which means maintaining proper nutrition and dietary habits.


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