I had the privilege of shadowing an oncology dietitian this summer; it was an amazing experience and I’ve since developed a passion for it. Not many people know about how important nutrition is for oncology patients, including myself before my experience.
Common chemotherapy side effects include (2):
Loss of appetite
Feeling full quickly
Change in tastes of foods
Chemotherapy side effects can lead to malnourishment, which makes the Registered Dietitian (RD) a vital member of the care team (2). Certain chemotherapies can affect taste in patients, causing foods to taste differently than before. Some foods may taste bland or patients may experience a metallic or chemical taste in their mouth (1). These taste changes may cause a lack of appetite in patients, resulting in weight loss (1). RD’s may recommend soft foods and protein supplements to make sure patients are staying nourished and meeting their protein needs (2).
The importance of nutrition in oncology patients is to maintain a healthy body weight, maintain strength, and to decrease side effects of treatment (2). Consuming the right amount of nutrients can help a patient feel stronger and better before, during, and after cancer treatment (2). A healthy diet for a patient with cancer includes proper hydration and eating foods abundant with vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and fats (2). Protein intake is necessary to keep the immune system healthy and repair body tissue; protein is especially crucial for oncology patients to help fight infection (4). Some good sources of protein include fish, meats, poultry, nut and nut butters, beans, etc (4). In response to difficulty swallowing or keeping foods down, RD’s might suggest parenteral nutrition or enteral nutrition to help the patient stay nourished. Parenteral nutrition is when a patient receives nutrients intravenously (through a vein) whereas enteral nutrition is when a tube is placed into the stomach or small intestine and nutrients are pumped through the tube (3).
During my experience of shadowing an oncology dietitian, I got to witness oncology patients receive education about the importance of consuming adequate nutrition during their chemotherapies. To counteract some of the patients’ symptoms of lack of appetite or altered taste, the dietitian suggested using protein supplements such as Ensure to get extra nutrients and protein into their diet. The dietitian suggested adding Ensure as a special ingredient in milkshakes or smoothies as a great and fun way to consume the extra protein!
Edited by PreRD intern, Lauren Gatto
Written by Kaitlyn Czaplicki: Hello! My name is Kaitlyn and I am an aspiring Registered Dietitian! I am a Senior at Pennsylvania State University, studying Nutritional Sciences in the Dietetics Option! In my free time, I enjoy baking new recipes, cooking yummy meals, and exercising!
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