Maintaining a Healthy Nutritional Status When Diagnosed with Head & Neck Cancers

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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.

 

Latest research shows benefit of proton therapy for children with head and neck cancer

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Thousands of cancer patients have and could benefit from proton therapy, and children definitely top the list.

This week, exciting news has emerged from the renowned Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia confirming that proton therapy effectively treats pediatric cancers of the head and neck and reduces the side effects often experience with conventional radiation treatment.

It’s one more step toward growing and full recognition of proton therapy in the medical community as a state-of-the-art treatment option for cancer. (more…)

Provision patients report on life after treatment

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For the past three and a half years, patients have been coming to Provision Cares Proton Therapy Center seeking the best treatment and care for the cancer diagnosis. Many of them have shared their stories with us. Today, we celebrate these survivors by checking in with some of the Provision alumni whose stories we have featured in the past. Click the links to find out more about them on our website, protonstories.com (more…)

Protons offer promise for reirradiation

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For those with cancer who have already an initial course of radiation therapy, a recurrence of their disease can be an understandable cause for concern.

With conventional (X-ray) based radiation, we generally can only safely give one round of treatment to the primary site of disease. But with proton therapy, because of its ability to zero in on the cancer and spare healthy surrounding tissue, a second course of treatment could offer hope to patients with recurrent tumors. (more…)

Patient with oral cancer finds hope in proton therapy

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This is Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week. Click here to learn more about these types of cancer.

Before her cancer diagnosis, Holly Caster worked in hospitality at Beaumont Hospital in her Michigan hometown, coming up with creative ways to make patients’ stays more comfortable.

There was the flash mob she planned for a high school senior who’d been hospitalized and couldn’t go to prom. The laptop, CDs and company-keeping for a young pregnant woman confined to bed rest whose family lived 50 miles away. She gave cancer patients afghans in their favorite color. She planned in-hospital celebrations for weddings and anniversaries and new babies, all to help people cope as best they could when life dished up the unexpected.

Then the unexpected happened to her. (more…)

Provision dosimetrist ranks with best in planning contest

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When his boss sent out an email encouraging those in the Provision medical physics department to participate in an international treatment planning competition, Kevin Kirby decided to give it a shot.

Sponsored by ProKnow, a radiation analytics and quality assurance company, the assignment of creating a radiation treatment plan for a head and neck cancer case attracted more than 200 entries.

In the final results, Kirby’s entry ranked 21st among 238 treatment plans, and first among proton therapy entries.

“A perfect score was 150,” said Kirby, a medical dosimetrist at Provision Proton Therapy Center. “I got 144.” The top score was 146.9.

He is the second Provision employee to place high in the ProKnow competition, known as the QADS Plan Study. Samantha Hedrick, a medical physicist, achieved third place out of 124 entries in 2013.

ProKnow develops and sells software to “help improve the standard of care in radiation oncology” through analytical tools and databases that help customers measure and track their planning efforts with a goal of identifying best practices for treating a variety of diseases.

The plan Kirby submitted was scored on a scale of 20+ criteria categories, with the ultimate goal of providing the most dose to the tumor versus the least dose to the surrounding, healthy parts of the body.

Kirby credited his treatment modality, proton therapy, with giving him an edge over competitors using conventional radiation treatment methods.

Proton therapy is particularly suited to treatment of head and neck cancer, because “you are dealing with some very critically sensitive areas to radiation, such as the spine and brain,” Kirby said. “Proton therapy is just one of the top ways to treat one of the most difficult areas to get to in the body.”

“Kevin is an outstanding dosimetrist.  Along with the rest of our staff, Kevin’s knowledge and work ethic has kept Provision’s planning capabilities at the forefront of radiation therapy,” said Ben Robison, Provision director of medical physics.

Kirby’s high score got him a phone interview with ProKnow in which he was asked about his personal background and more details about his planning methods. ProKnow is making the interview available via its website. Ranking so high among other treatment plans is quantitative validation that proton therapy and, specifically, the medical care at Provision, is best-in-class, he said.

“There’s a lot of hyperbole,” Kirby said. “This is a blind, metric product that shows our treatment is one of the best in the world. It just validates what we’re doing here.”

Ben Wilkinson, M.D.

Provision welcomes new medical director

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He came to Provision Center for Proton Therapy from the Willis-Knighton Cancer and Proton Therapy Center in Shreveport, La., where he served as a radiation oncologist and assistant professor of radiation oncology for the Louisiana State University School of Medicine. (more…)

Throat cancer patient high on proton therapy

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When Terry Vinson first felt a small grown the size of a pinkie fingertip on his neck, he dismissed it as a harmless cyst.

Even two weeks later, when it had doubled into the size of a thumb and then doubled again the following week, he had not yet sought medical help.

“I’m in medical sales,” Vinson says. “I should have known better.” (more…)

Provision reaches 1000-patient milestone!

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The gong—three clangs that echo through the lobby, treatment rooms, work station cubicles. It’s startling for first-time visitors and new employees.

It quickly becomes the joyous reminder of why we’re here.

Today, the 1000th patient rang the graduation bell to applause of patients, former graduates, employees and supporters of the Provision Center for Proton Therapy. (more…)