Cancer and treatment can affect how the body digests, absorbs and uses food, leading to a range of nutrition concerns.
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- Managing your emotions
- Eating after surgery
- Weight loss
- Weight gain
- Food-type nutritional supplements
- Vitamins and mineral supplements
Malnutrition occurs when you eat less energy and protein than your body needs. This is most likely to occur in people with cancer during treatment or in the few weeks after treatment finishes.
Factors that increase the risk of malnutrition include:
- surgery for cancers such as 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 such as nausea, vomiting and dry mouth
- some medicines
- anxiety, stress and fatigue.
Many of the eating issues caused by treatment side effects can contribute to, or be symptoms of, malnutrition. Other signs of malnutrition include weakness; significant weight loss; confusion; dry, brittle hair and nails; and pale or pigmented skin.
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 recovery.
A person can be malnourished at any shape or size − it is possible to be malnourished even if you are overweight. Talk to your doctor or dietitian if you think malnutrition may be an issue. It is important to do this early so that you can receive the right advice.
Jenelle Loeliger, Head of Nutrition and Speech Pathology Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Rebecca Blower, Public Health Advisor, Cancer Prevention, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; Julia Davenport, Consumer; Irene Deftereos, Senior Dietitian, Western Health, VIC; Lynda Menzies, A/Senior Dietitian – Cancer Care (APD), Sunshine Coast University Hospital, QLD; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Janice Savage, Consumer.
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