Other nutrition concerns
Some nutritional issues need extra care. Speak to your doctor or a dietitian for help managing these issues.
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When you eat foods with less energy and protein than your body needs over a period of time or you lose weight without trying, you may become malnourished. This can occur before, during or after treatment.
Factors that increase the risk of malnutrition include:
- surgery for head and neck, lung and gastrointestinal cancers, which may make it hard to swallow and digest food
- increased nutritional needs caused by cancer and treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery
- symptoms or side effects of treatment such as loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth and mouth sores
- loss of nutrients through diarrhoea or vomiting
- some medicines
- anxiety, stress and fatigue.
Many of the difficulties with eating, swallowing and digestion discussed here can contribute to, or be symptoms of, malnutrition. Other signs of malnutrition include muscle weakness; significant weight loss; dry and brittle hair and nails; and pale or pigmented skin.
Having malnutrition can increase your risk of infection and reduce your strength, ability to function and quality of life. It can also affect how your body responds to cancer treatment and make your recovery longer. You can become malnourished regardless of how much you weigh – it is possible to be malnourished even if you are overweight or obese. Talk to your doctor or dietitian if you think malnutrition may be an issue. It is important to do this early so you receive the right advice. They may ask you questions such as have you lost weight without trying or have you been eating poorly because of a decreased appetite.
Podcast: Appetite Loss and Nausea
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Jacqueline Baker, Senior Oncology Dietitian, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Lauren Atkins, Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian, OnCore Nutrition, VIC; Dr Tsien Fua, Head and Neck Radiation Oncology Specialist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Rosemerry Hodgkin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Clare Hughes, Manager, Nutrition Unit, Cancer Council NSW; John Spurr, Consumer; Emma Vale, Senior Dietitian, GenesisCare, SA; David Wood, Consumer.
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