What is cancer? 

Cancer is the term used to describe a number of related diseases in which the body's cells divide uncontrollably. This uncontrolled division of cells can affect the normal function of the tissue in which it occurs, and, in some cancers, may result in the growth of tumours. There are over 200 different types of cancer, and in the UK 1 in 2 people will get cancer in their lifetime.

How cancer affects nutrition 

Individuals with cancer can experience a wide range of nutritional problems, including poor appetite, nausea, pain, taste changes, increased nutritional requirements, malabsorption, and/or swallowing problems. Some of these issues can be caused by the cancer itself, while some are due to the effects of treatment (chemotherapy, radiotherapy and/or surgery). These nutritional problems may mean individuals are unable to meet their nutritional needs, and malnutrition can result.

How good nutrition can help those with cancer 

Food provides us with energy (calories) and nutrients - the substances the body needs to enable us to function every day. No single food provides us with the right mixture of these nutrients, which is why we need to try and eat a varied balanced diet to keep well.

Meeting nutritional requirements for some people with cancer can be challenging; it is very important to maintain a healthy weight and prevent weight loss throughout cancer treatment as much as possible. Good nutrition can help to boost an individual's strength and resilience against infections and illnesses and support your body through treatment.

For those who have cancer and find it difficult to eat and drink enough the following might help:

• Eating small frequent nutritious meals, rather than fewer larger meals which can feel overwhelming when your appetite is poor
• Maximising intake during times of the day when you are feeling well or have the best appetite
• Having snacks and milky drinks between meals
• Choosing high calorie snacks, like cakes, cheese and crackers, nuts and dried fruit, toast with peanut butter
• Adding full fat milk, butter, cream, or cheese to sauces, soups, drinks and desserts
• Avoiding strong smelling foods when experiencing nausea, often cold foods are better tolerated
• Choosing moist, soft foods and adding extra sauces if necessary when experiencing a dry and/or sore mouth
• Preparing ahead to have easy to eat, nourishing meals in the freezer for when you feeling tired or have limited time

How oral nutritional supplements can help those with cancer 

Getting adequate nutrition from diet alone can be challenging when people are experiencing side effects of cancer or its treatment. Healthcare professionals may prescribe oral nutritional supplements for those who cannot get adequate nutrition from diet alone. Oral nutritional supplements are specially designed to meet the nutritional needs of those with disease related malnutrition. They provide additional energy, protein, vitamins and minerals. They come in a range of flavours and formats including milkshakes, juice style, yoghurt style, powders and desserts.

Oral nutritional supplements are Foods for Special Medical Purposes and must be used under medical supervision.

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