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Good Nutrition Is A Must During Treatment Of Cancer: RGCIRC

There is need for proper planning and counselling of nutrition since cancer treatments could lead to loss of desire to eat, constipation, changes in smell, nausea, vomiting etc.

Nutrition has a major role to play in recovery from cancer and even post treatment. An estimated 80 per cent of advanced cancer patients suffer from malnutrition causing adverse effects on body functions and treatment outcomes. This was stated by Dr Vineet Talwar, Director, Medical Oncology at Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute & Research Centre (RGCIRC). He was presenting a public lecture on the subject of Diet & Cancer on the occasion of 25th anniversary of RGCIRC.

Referring to the reasons for frequent malnutrition in cancer patients, Dr Talwar stated that it could be because of any of the four reasons including decreased dietary intake (due to sore mouth, difficulty in eating, constipation etc.), increase in body’s diet requirements but not consuming enough, loss of nutrients (due to vomiting, diarrhoea etc.) or impaired digestion (due to radiation/ chemotherapy induced enteritis etc.)

People with cancer need extra nutrition. For instance calories required per day for a healthy individual is 1800 while patient with cancer needs approx. 2200 calories per day. However nutrition in cancer patients is so compromised that an estimated 20 per cent people with cancer may die from effects of malnutrition rather than cancer itself, said Dr Talwar.

There is need for proper planning and counselling of nutrition since cancer treatments could lead to loss of desire to eat, constipation, changes in smell, nausea, vomiting etc. He advised to take small frequent meals of home cooked food and drink plenty of fluids to negate side-effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Dr Talwar also endeavoured to bust several myths regarding nutrition for cancer patients and those who have conquered cancer. According to him, drinking red juices like pomegranate and beet root alone doesn’t lead to increase in Haemoglobin count.

There is another myth that starvation would deprive a growing tumour of nutrition and therefore help in treatment of cancer. Research has shown that starvation does not increase survival but could be detrimental due to high nutritional needs during and after therapy, said Dr Talwar.

Dr Talwar also advised cancer patients and conquerors to steer clear of all the claims about super foods/dietary supplements and food related advice populated on the social media. According to him Indian diet, besides being healthy, is also a wealthy diet with a wealth of all kinds of nutrition required including turmeric, salt, micro nutrients, Garam masala a mixture of different spices each with unique properties and anti-oxidants. A general thumb rule is to eat food with 40 per cent Carbohydrates, 40 per cent fats and 20 per cent proteins, he advised.

Dr Talwar also emphasized on hi-fibre diet which he said can lead to lower incidence of colorectal, lung, oral, esophageal and stomach cancers. Few studies have also pointed to role of fruits and vegetables in improvement in cancer survival. Five servings of fruits and vegetables each day is ideal, he said.

Besides good nutrition, Dr Talwar strongly advocated the need for exercise. Moderate to intense physical activity for half an hour for 5 days in a week or vigorous activity for 20 minutes for 3 days a week can do a lot of good, he said.


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