Cancer survivors face a number of after-treatment challenges which have an effect on their nutritional state. Many of these side effects disappear after treatment. However, symptoms like poor appetite, dry mouth, change in taste or smell, trouble swallowing, or weight changes can last for some time. Fatigue or the feeling of being tired all the time can be a side effect of cancer treatments or poor nutrition. To deal with fatigue, it is important to exercise moderately and regularly during the week, drink lots of fluids, increase the sugar levels in the blood in the case of weight loss, and increase protein intake to help your body heal.
Surgery and radiation may impair your ability to maintain a healthy nutritional balance, particularly when treatment involves the digestive tract, including the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, pancreas, colon, or rectum. The side effects of radiation might appear in the weeks following treatment and last from two to four weeks, depending on the length and severity of treatment.
Some ways to increase caloric and protein intake are:
- Ask for a consultation with a nutritionist or dietician to discuss what foods you should be eating and to create a nutritional plan that responds to your personal situation.
- Eat frequent snacks throughout the day – don’t wait until you get hungry.
- Try to choose high-calorie, high-protein foods at each snack.
- Exercise lightly before meals to increase appetite.
- Drink high-calorie, high-protein shakes.
- Drink fluids between meals instead of with meals.
There might be times when you simply can’t eat for a variety of reasons. If this is the case, ask to speak to the dietician or nutritionist again. Here are a few options:
- Use nutrition supplements, which come in a variety of flavours and formats (milkshakes, for example).
- Vitamin and mineral supplements that reinforce nutritional intake.
- As a last resort, a feeding tube can be inserted in the throat or directly into the abdominal cavity and the stomach. This is done in cases where swallowing is impaired.
- Parenteral nutrition or TPN that provides fluids and essential nutrients directly into the bloodstream through an intravenous (IV) catheter. (CCS)
It is important to note that high doses of some food supplements can be harmful, and they can interfere with treatment. Before taking high doses of any nutritional supplement, contact your nutritionist or doctor.