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Patients With Breast Cancer ‘Benefit From Nutritional Support’

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Research focuses on the importance of quality of life and nutritional needs for patients with breast cancer.

nutrition

For individuals who have breast cancer, it is important to focus on nutritional needs that can benefit each patient in a customized way. A recent study evaluated nutritional need within this patient population to ensure that quality of life was impacted.

According to research presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS), researchers found that patients who wanted to receive nutritional needs improved their health-related quality of life compared with patients who wanted nutritional support but failed to receive it due to mental and physical health barriers.

Experts Sue Weldon, founder and CEO of Unite for HER and Elif Andac-Jones, senior director of Research at Cancer Support Community, discuss the study’s components, alongside the results that could possibly impact the patient population being affected.

Q: How are nutritional support and mental health related when it comes to breast cancer?

Andac-Jones: We do know that nutrition issues are important for all patients with cancer. But, for some cancer types, this is a more obvious connection than others. For example, the head and neck cancer patients might have direct referral to a nutrition service before they start getting treatment. That is not necessarily the case for breast cancer patients. That's not one of the first things oncologists or patients think about. “Oh, what kind of nutritional support this patient might over the course of their treatments.” Since we know that, combined with the side effects of cancer, such as major GI issues, fatigue, not having the right nutrition or access to the nutrition they need, can exacerbate mental health issues for patients. Fatigue is a major issue, we hear from our patients that with that excessive fatigue, they're also not able to comfortably cook they food they need or go out and buy the food they need. Having access to nutrition, helps patients overall, stick to their treatments, feel better overall, which also helps them.

Weldon: They already are starting to think about their day from the time they wake up, the emotional burden, that they feel that they know that this drug is going to hurt them in a way, that they can't get out of the house because they have excessive diarrhea, and they have to plan for that transportation ride to the office. They're going to present at an office function. It is a mental and emotional side effect that where you can actually have the resources of a registered dietician and get skills that can actually help you do better, have resources to a social worker or a professional counselor that could teach you tapping and how to quiet the mind.

Q: How can patients advocate for their mental health and nutritional support their career?

Andac-Jones: The more they learn the connection between nutrition and their quality of life and mental health, the more I think they're going to go and request that to be part of their services across the board. So that process, we do have some educational materials, for example at the Cancer Support Community, we do have broader “eating well with cancer” information. But we want to go beyond and above that and studies like that are quite important, for that matter, such as organizations like Cancer Support Community, take on that advocating for the patient's role as well and push for changes throughout the system.

Weldon: And it is one-on-one and comprehensive, and that's why we raise those funds to get it right to those patients. What they also can is tell the physicians what they want, it's important for that physician to hear, “Tell me about nutrition services that are available.” The more that they are voicing that they know that this is completely linked with them doing better and going into treatment, helping their GI issues, helping them maintain the chemotherapy regimen, the more physicians are going to actively known to recommend certain types of services.

Q: Do you have anything else to add?

Andac-Jones: One thing you'd like to tell patients to start asking your care teams for a referral to a certified dietitian as part of your treatment services. Also, knowing how important that is for the course of your treatment, your quality of life, mental health and your physical functioning. Start asking if you haven't done already, and then go from there.

Weldon: It is a complement to overall outcomes when you have integrative care as a part of the plan. Integrative care helps patients do better. We have seen these outcomes and the studies over and over again at both of our organizations. Showing that when you implement this type of wellness offerings for mental health, whether it's counseling, sexual health nutrition, fitness, acupuncture, yoga, massage therapy, it helps them deal with their side effects and symptoms in a way that allows them to hear the treatments. It gives them better overall emotional wellbeing, it gives them control, again, over what they had no control over. And that's what's so valuable when we do posters like this. And SABCS, that data comes to the forefront, we get so much of the patient voice, CSC is mining and looking at that data and reporting on it. Together, we have this incredible report that we want to get out to the community. We have this incredible report that we want to get out to the community, so that they can see the value and that it needs to be covered.

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