Cancer is the second leading cause of morbidity and mortality due to noncommunicable diseases in Africa. As in treatment of different diseases, nutrition is a vital part in cancer treatment. Feeding on right variety of foods help a person feel better and stronger, before, during and after treatment. The diet and nutrition information for cancer in this article is not meant to replace the advice of a medical practitioner specialized in cancer therapy.

Good nutrition is especially important if you are a cancer patient because both the illness and its treatments can change the way you eat. Cancer and its treatments can also affect the way your body performs different metabolic activities like digestion of foods and utilization of nutrients. The nutrients needs of people with cancer differ from one another. Your cancer care team can help you identify your nutrition goals and plan ways to help you meet them.

Feeding on the right foods as directed, when you are in cancer treatment might help you feel better, keep up your strength and energy, maintain your weight and your body’s store of nutrients, tolerate treatment-related side effects like fatigue & anaemia, lower your risk of infection, heal and recover faster. Good diet and nutrition for cancer means eating a variety of foods to get the nutrients your body needs to fight cancer. These nutrients include proteins, carbohydrates, fats, water, vitamins and minerals.

Choose high-protein and high-calorie foods to increase energy and help wounds heal

We need protein for growth, to repair body tissues and to keep our immune systems healthy. Good sources of protein include fish, poultry, lean red meat, eggs, low-fat dairy products, nuts and butters, dried beans, peas and lentils and soy foods. When your body lacks enough proteins, it might break down muscle to quench its thirst. This slows the speed of recovery from illnesses and lowers body’s immunity. People with cancer often need more protein than usual because cancer treatment might involve surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy, normally extra protein is highly needed to heal tissues and help fight infection.

Carbohydrates are the body’s major source of energy. They also supply needed vitamins and minerals, fiber and phytonutrients to the body cells. For physical and proper organ function the body obtains its fuel from carbohydrates. The best sources of carbohydrates are fruits, vegetables, potatoes, rice and whole grains.

Fats and oils are made of fatty acids and serve as a rich source of energy for the body. Fats are usually broken down and utilized to store energy, insulate body tissues and transport some types of vitamins through the blood.

Drink lots of fluids

All body cells need water to function. If you don’t drink enough water or of you lose fluids through vomiting or diarrhoea you can be dehydrated. If this happens the fluids and minerals that help keep your body working can become dangerously out of balance. Dry mouth is often caused by radiation therapy to the head and neck and by certain medicines. It may cause altered speech, taste, and the ability to swallow or to use dentures. There is also an increased
risk of dental decay (cavities) and gum disease. A person should drink about 8-ounce glasses of liquid each day to be sure that the body cells get the fluid they need. Keep in mind that all liquids like soups, milk, ice cream and gelatin count toward your fluid goals.

Heal well

For the body to function properly it needs small amounts of vitamins and minerals. They help the body to utilize energy (calories) found in foods. Most of them are found naturally in foods though they are also supplements in pill and liquid form. A person who eats a balanced diet with enough carbohydrates and proteins usually gets plenty of vitamins and minerals. But for cancer patients your doctor or dietitian may suggest daily multivitamin and mineral supplements. If you are thinking of taking a vitamin or supplement, be sure to discuss this with your doctor first.

Nowadays, herbs have been so famous though they have been used to treat disease for hundreds of years, with mixed results. Today, herbs are found in many products, like pills, liquid extracts, teas, and ointments. Many of these products are harmless and safe to use, but others can cause harmful side effects. Some may even interfere with proven cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and recovery from surgery. If you’re interested in using products containing herbs, talk about it with your health worker first.