Nutritional support essential for cancer patients: Experts
HONG KONG - Oral mucositis, a common complication which inhibits eating that is induced by radiotherapy and chemotherapy, could significantly upset the course of cancer treatment and lead to higher tumor recurrence rates, Chan Leung-cho, a specialist in clinical oncology, said on Tuesday.
Patients suffering from oral mucositis induced by chemotherapy could lose their appetite and become too weak to continue the treatment. Normally a course of chemotherapy takes seven weeks. If oral mucositis interrupts and suspends the treatment, the chemotherapy cannot perform its best result, and the recurrent rate of the cancer might increase 3 to 5 percent for every postponed week of treatment, Chan said.
Chemotherapy, a cancer treatment intended to hinder or cease the growth of cancer cells, might also damage healthy, rapidly divided epithelial cells lining in the mouth. This later gives rise to ulcerations, a prominent symptom of oral mucositis, he said.
Patients who have oral mucositis will find themselves in great oral pain, and have difficulty when eating and swallowing. Reddened, bleeding and swollen mouth and gums are the visible indicators. Such conditions normally develop around four to five days from the onset of the chemotherapy.
Nutritional support is a crucial component of cancer treatment to help patients regain and maintain normal body weight and be physically strong enough to fight against cancer, said Sylvia Lam See-way, a senior registered dietician.
“Generally, a cancer patient has to consume a special diet, which contains higher calories and protein content than usual,” Lam said.
Lorena Cheung Tsui-fun, a registered dietician who is experienced in mapping out individualized diets for cancer patients, said that patients will have a bolstered immune system and be more tolerant of chemotherapy-induced side effects if they have sufficient immunonutrition.
The notion that the sugar in food might promote the growth of cancer cells is a fallacy, Lam and Cheung contended. They warn that cancer patients should not overly abstain from eating a wide range of food.
Cheung suggested eating extra amounts of quality oil, such as olive oil, to boost energy content in patients’ diets. Cancer patients should also snack between meals and consume food which is easy to chew and swallow to enhance their appetite.
“Nutrition modification is important during treatments, but optimizing a patient’s nutrition before the start of chemotherapy is also crucial,” Chan told China Daily, adding that he often recommends that cancer patients load up on nutrients in advance. In such a way they can be better prepared to deal with the damaging outcomes caused by oral mucositis.
According to the European Oncology Nursing Society, the average occurrence rate of oral mucositis among patients who receive chemotherapy is around 40 percent. For those who suffer from head and neck cancer, the rate reaches 100 percent.
As stated by the Department of Health, cancer has become the number one killer in Hong Kong, accounting for 30.2 percent of all registered deaths in 2014.