Maintaining a healthy diet, including proper hydration, is important
Patients who are thinking about taking dietary supplements are in good company. Surveys indicate it’s a common reaction for patients who have just received a cancer diagnosis to load up on vitamins to potentially help fight the cancer or to help reduce some negative side effects of treatment. Unfortunately, certain dietary supplements may do more harm than good, as some may actually interfere with drugs used for cancer treatment.
So what’s the answer for cancer patients trying to balance their nutritional needs during cancer treatment with any possible dangers? With no cookie-cutter approach to supplements, each situation must be considered independently, and patients should always consult their doctor before using dietary supplements.
Losing or Gaining Weight
Weight loss or gain is a common side effect. Some treatments, particularly those for breast, ovarian and prostate cancers, may cause weight gain. Chemotherapy and steroids may increase appetite and cause fluid retention—leading to treatment-related weight gain. Fatigue and decreased physical activity can also contribute.
To cope with these issues, patients should limit intake of calorie-dense foods, and instead, increase intake of vegetables and fresh fruits. With approval from their doctor, patients can exercise to help with fatigue, weight maintenance, anxiety and mobility. Some gyms and cancer centers have programs designed for cancer patients, and many oncology practices provide a dietitian with oncology experience.
Water is the most important nutrient in a patient’s diet. Dehydration occurs when the body takes in less fluid than it releases. It happens quickly when a patient has diarrhea, vomiting or fever with sweating.
Patients may not have the desire or energy to eat or drink, so when they do feel thirsty, they may already be dehydrated. Symptoms include little or dark-colored urine, fatigue, sunken eyes and skin that remains raised if pinched (called decreased or poor skin turgor). Signs of severe dehydration, such as low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, dizziness and confusion, may require immediate intravenous fluids.
Proper hydration can help ease common side effects such as constipation and fatigue, as well as rare but serious effects, such as kidney damage. Because the kidneys filter waste, chemicals and excess compounds from the blood, intravenous fluids are given during some types of treatment. Patients may be told to drink water before and after treatment to flush toxins through the kidneys and bladder quickly.
Patients with compromised immune systems can stay hydrated by drinking tap water if it is from a city water supply or municipal well serving a highly populated area. If water is not from these sources, patients should use boiled, distilled or bottled water.
Sometimes water may not be enough. Broths, sports drinks and other products can restore fluid and electrolyte balance in the body. Good hydration is one way patients can stay as healthy as possible and feel better during and after treatment.