Most side effects go away after treatment ends but some can take time to resolve.
It is important to continue eating well (as per advice during treatment) until your side effects are resolved and no longer affecting your ability to eat. Some people who have had cancer change their diet dramatically in an attempt to stop the cancer coming back. Unfortunately no specific foods have been proven to prevent cancer recurring.
However healthy habits, like eating well and doing regular physical activity, may help to reduce the chance of some cancers returning. For more information about leading a healthy lifestyle, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or talk to a dietitian.
After treatment finishes and your eating has returned to usual patterns, it is safe to change to a healthy–eating focus (your dietitian can advise you on this) and the following information may help.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines have been developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council to help people choose a healthy diet using a variety of foods. The guidelines provide general information about the amounts and kinds of food you need each day to get enough of the nutrients that are essential for overall good health and well-being.
To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and choose amounts of nutritious food and drinks to meet your energy needs. Children and adolescents should eat sufficient nutritious foods to grow and develop normally. They should be physically active every day and their growth should be checked regularly. Older people should eat nutritious foods and keep physically active to help maintain muscle strength and a healthy weight.
Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five groups every day:
- Plenty of vegetables, of different types and colours.
- Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley.
- Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans.
- Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat (reduced fat milks are not suitable for children under two years).
- Plenty of water.
Following are a few tips to help you build your health after treatment.
- Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol.
- Limit intake of foods high in saturated fat such as many biscuits, cakes, pastries, pies, processed meats, commercial burgers, pizza, fried foods, potato chips, crisps and other savoury snacks.
- Replace high fat foods that contain predominantly saturated fats such as butter, cream, cooking margarine, coconut and palm oil with foods that contain predominantly polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats such as oils, spreads, nut butters/pastes and avocado. (Low fat diets are not suitable for children under two years.)
- Limit intake of foods and drinks containing added salt. Read labels to choose lower sodium options among similar foods. Avoid adding salt to foods in cooking or at the table.
- Limit intake of foods and drinks containing added sugars such as confectionary, sugar–sweetened soft drinks and cordials, fruit drinks, vitamin waters, energy and sports drinks.
- If you choose to drink alcohol, limit intake. For women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is the safest option.
- Encourage, support and promote breastfeeding.
- Care for your food and prepare and store it safely.
If you need more information about any of the content included in this article contact your doctor, nurse or dietitian. Dietitians are available to help you in all public hospitals and most private hospitals. Ask your doctor or nurse to arrange an appointment.
The Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) can direct you to an Accredited Practising Dietitian in your area or to one who specialises in cancer or has experience with particular clinical conditions. Visit the website at www.daa.asn.au or call them on 1800 812 942.
Dietitians in private practice may also be listed in the Yellow Pages. If your doctor refers you to a dietitian as part of your Enhanced Primary Care (EPC) plan, you may be eligible for a Medicare rebate for up to five visits per calendar year. Most private health insurers provide a rebate depending on your type and level of cover.
Answer the following questions to help you determine if you need to see a dietitian:
- Have you lost weight recently (in the past 6 months) without trying?
- Have you been eating poorly because of decreased appetite?
If you answer yes to one or both of these questions it is important to be referred to a dietitian for individualised advice.
You may find this checklist helpful when thinking about the questions you want to ask your doctor about your disease and treatment.
If your doctor gives you answers that you don’t understand, ask for clarification.
- Should I be on a special diet?
- Should I avoid any particular food during treatment?
- Why am I not eating normally?
- What other changes to my diet can I expect?
- Why am I losing/gaining weight?
- Why am I feeling sick?
- Why am I so tired?
- How long will mouth ulcers take to heal?
- How can I reduce nausea?
- Will medication help?
- Should I take vitamin supplements?
- What else can I do to help?
- Will these symptoms go and, if so, when?
- What types of foods will I be able to eat once my treatment is finished?