Cancer Care

Cancer Diet is a Numbers Game of Nutrition

When you think of cancer diagnosis and treatment, nutrition may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But proper nutrition is an important part of the process.

As a board certified specialist in oncology nutrition dietitian, my focus is on food, and how food helps cancer patients stay healthy through treatment. 

Goals of oncology nutrition

The primary goal during active treatment is to help patients maintain their weight and stay hydrated while managing the side effects of treatment. If you can maintain your weight and stay hydrated, you are setting yourself up for success to handle what doctors are prescribing for you; what is hopefully going to eradicate your disease and cure you.

The so-called “rules”

During cancer treatment, the so-called rules of nutrition convention typically fly out the window. Many times patients simply don’t have the time to think about their diet because they are having treatments – whether recuperating from surgery or daily radiation or infusions and chemotherapies. Those treatments often leave a patient not feeling well and not able to focus on what they are eating. Meeting with a dietitian can help you brainstorm ways to meet your goals without thinking you need to overhaul your entire diet. 

A numbers game

During treatment, it’s all about maximizing what patients put in their mouth. It’s a numbers game. If a patient is dropping weight during treatment, they may not be taking in enough energy. They either have to eat more of something that’s low calorie or we have to find a way to pack more nutrition into what they’re already consuming.

But that doesn’t always mean supplements. It can simply mean changing a patient’s approach to food – for example, switching from skim milk to two percent. The focus should be on real food first. All the documentation on pills and powder-popping show it just doesn’t work. It hasn’t shown enough benefit for patients or consumers to sink time or financial resources into doing that versus actually giving some effort to eating more nutritious food.

Free nutritional help available

If you are undergoing cancer treatment, nutritional help is available. Our nutrition services at are for anyone with a cancer diagnosis, no matter where they seek their treatment, and it’s all free of charge as part of Harper’s Hope, a comprehensive cancer survivorship program funded through contributions to the Methodist Hospital Foundation.

I try to meet patients where they’re at and where their challenges are. Once we manage the side effects of treatment, we can focus on implementing nutrition best-practice guidelines. It’s about setting you up for the best possible outcome and keeping you strong for where you are in your cancer journey.

Learn more about oncology nutrition services offered by Harper’s Hope.

About the Author

As a board certified specialist in oncology nutrition dietitian at Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center, Chandy Lockman Hoke is dedicated to helping cancer survivors maintain proper nutrition before, during and after cancer treatment.

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