Content and information provided by Casey Coffey MS, RD, LDN Registered Dietician for Provision CARES Proton Therapy Knoxville
As we raise awareness of head & neck cancers during the month of April, it is important to be aware of the unique challenges that are at risk when diagnosed with head and neck cancer. Studies for patients who choose proton therapy treatment for head and neck cancers have shown less side effects during first 3 months after treatment and quicker return to normal function. The potential side effects for head and neck cancer patients make swallowing food and fluids difficult and sometimes painful. Malnutrition affects an estimated 40 – 80% of cancer patients – particularly those with gastrointestinal or head and neck cancers.
The four main nutritional goals for cancer patients include:
- Strive to maintain a healthy weight
- Consume foods and beverages for managing cancer and treatment-related side effects
- Select and eat healthy foods that supply the body with fuel and nutrients for repair and healing
- Reduce risk of cancer recurrence and the development of a second malignancy
Many patients do not realize the importance of nutrition while under treatment. Primary goals of nutrition therapy are to prevent or reverse nutrient deficiencies, preserve lean body mass, support the immune system, and minimize and manage the impact of nutrition related symptoms and side effects to maximize quality of life. Adequate nutrition is more than just maintaining body weight. The foods we eat contain nutrients necessary to support healing and restoration but also to support our healthy cells as well. Adequate nutrition has been shown to improve outcomes in cancer patients, improve strength and energy, avoid dose reduction or treatment breaks.
Make Every Bite Count.
Initially, it is recommended patients eat what they can tolerate while focusing on protein with each meal and including whole foods (minimizing the processed nature of foods). Why? Well, quality counts. High quality foods, which are those that are less processed, are more nutritious due to their higher nutritional value. As treatment progresses and possible side effects begin, the ability to swallow can become difficult. If difficulty to swallow becomes a problem for head and neck cancers, here are three ideas on how to maintain nutritional value through your diet:
- Graze throughout the day on nutrient dense foods: Nutrient dense foods that have been fortified with protein and additional calories without adding volume and lots of sugar or highly processed foods. Some examples are olive oil, butter, coconut oil, coconut butter, peanut butter, heavy cream, half & half, or any nut butter.
- Alter texture of foods to improve tolerance: focus on soft or smooth foods such as, bananas, watermelon, canned fruits, peach, pear, and apricot nectars, pureed or mashed vegetables, oatmeal, cooked cereal, cottage cheese, yogurt, milkshakes, custards, puddings, gelatin, macaroni and cheese, scrambled eggs, and ground meats.
- Avoid irritating foods, such as, citrus fruits or juices, spicy or salty foods, pickled or vinegary foods, tomato-based foods (salsa, spaghetti sauce, and pizza), rough or dry foods, hot spices (pepper, chili powder, nutmeg, cloves, and curry).
For more information about how to overcome nutritional challenges when diagnosed with head & neck cancers or to learn about proton therapy, contact our CARE Team at 865-229-4689.