How eating healthy affects breast cancer treatment

This content is sponsored by Regional Cancer Care Associates

When you are diagnosed with breast cancer, your life changes suddenly. Your treatment may start immediately and affect everything, from your ability to do daily tasks you once took for granted to your sleeping and eating habits.

Not only does your old life change, adding treatment sessions into your schedule is a major adjustment, and that treatment can be grueling. So, even though it may seem like one more thing to worry about, taking care of your health – outside of cancer – is essential, even if you make changes incrementally.

“If you are not able to eat a mostly plant-based diet, maintain a healthy weight, and get regular physical activity during treatment, strive to do so as soon as possible after treatment is complete,” American Institute for Cancer Research says.

One of the reasons it’s helpful to eat healthy is that, with good nutrition, you can better manage the side effects of treatment.

Dealing with nausea

One common side effect is nausea and vomiting, depending on what type of treatment you receive, according to AICR. Feeling sick means that eating nutritious meals – or any meals – can be difficult if you are just starting treatment.

“Cancer treatment can affect a patient’s ability to eat, affect their taste buds, even change their sense of smell,” said Dr. Ralph Boccia, a medical oncologist at Regional Cancer Care Associates in Bethesda and Germantown. “All of these can affect your ability to nourish yourself.”

However, Dr. Boccia said whether you have early breast cancer or have advanced cancer, you need to be diligent with nutrition because the disease can cause metabolic imbalances that lead to weight loss and decreased strength. Combined with the side effects of treatment, this can contribute to dehydration, malnutrition, even poor mental health.

“Being poorly nourished can leave you so weak, you get depressed,” Dr. Boccia said. “When you can’t function at the family level, it can limit your ability to cope with the therapies that we hope will be effective in managing the disease.”

How to manage eating and drinking

Dr. Boccia recommends you eat multiple small meals instead of three big meals a day. Additionally, make those small meals nutritionally dense.

“Pay attention to what times of day you are best able to tolerate meals,” Dr. Boccia said. “Breakfast, lunch, dinner, whenever it is. Just make sure that’s when you’re eating all the components you need for the day are considered.”

Because another common side effect of treatment is constipation, one of the components you should include is fiber, which is available in a variety of foods. Try adding servings of fruits and veggies, lentils, beans, quinoa or nuts to your small meals.

Drinking plenty of water will also help relieve constipation and help you stay hydrated, especially important if you are vomiting. Keep a water bottle nearby to help you get 64 ounces every day (or eight 8-ounce glasses), as recommended by AICR.

If, on the other hand, you experience diarrhea as a side effect, try eating bland foods that will minimize symptoms, such as bananas or plain potatoes, rice, bread or crackers.

Regardless of what you eat, taking a short walk before meals will help stimulate your appetite, AICR says.

Nutrition guidance

Boccia recommends meeting with a nutritionist that specializes in working with cancer patients, no matter what stage of treatment you are in. Light exercise is healthy whenever possible.

Regional Cancer Care Associates has an oncology nutritionist who holds sessions every Wednesday at noon in Bethesda for any patient of the practice who wants to learn about nutrition.

“She’s a very valuable asset to patients struggling with their nutrition,” Dr. Boccia said.

Visit Regional Cancer Care Associates to see why it is the leading provider of advanced cancer care and treatment in Maryland, New Jersey and Connecticut.

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