Cancer patients need regular advice about what to eat

October 24, 2001

Misconceptions about what they should eat can result in people with cancer having the wrong kind of food and may decrease their physical functioning and compromise their quality of life, a specialist warned today. (Wednesday 24 October).

Most of the 1036 cancer patients in a nationwide survey in Denmark favoured vegetables and low calorie food, explained Dr. A. Bonde Jensen, of Copenhagen University Hospital. But cancer patients' dietary needs may change according to the stage of their disease. Underweight patients may be encouraged to eat fatty foods and snack whenever they feel the urge to eat because being significantly underweight may be a bigger threat to recovery than the distant risk of stroke or a heart attack.

Conversely, patients well on the way to recovery may be advised to eat a traditional healthy diet - with plenty of fruit and vegetables, more fish and chicken and less red meat, foods high in natural fibre, less sugar and salt and moderate amounts of alcohol.

Speaking at the ECCO 11 - the European Cancer Conference in Lisbon, Dr. Jensen highlighted the need to improve dietary counselling for cancer patients in hospital. Carried out with two colleagues the survey established that: - Nearly two thirds of the sample (63%) in the study had changed their eating habits since developing cancer.

Nearly three quarters (71%) were taking nutritional supplements (significantly more women than men).

A fifth (20%) of the sample thought that nutrition was very important in terms of affecting the course of cancer.

Only 8.5% thought that nutrition did not have any influence at all.

Confusion about what is best for cancer patients may be related to the idea that a healthy diet can reduce the risk of getting cancer. This is now universally accepted. The question as to whether diet can affect the course of an established cancer is more controversial. But specialists agree that underweight cancer patients should avoid slimming diets.

Dr. Jensen said: "There is a need for more knowledge about nutritional aspects in cancer diseases, especially when the disease has metastasized (spread to other organs), both among patients and health care providers. Today the quality of life of patients is too often further compromised by inappropriate food intake."
Abstract No. 1038

Further information: Maria Maneiro
+351 21 892 1818 (till 25 October)
+32 2 775 02 03 (from 26 October)

ECCO-the European CanCer Organisation

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