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by Alicia Lam Taracido
When we think about one of the most dangerous things to afflict man, the word “cancer” comes to mind. Most people on this planet have lost a loved one to this deadly disease, while several million suffer from it. The only silver lining is that medical science is progressively making breakthroughs to locating a cure for cancer. Once we have identified a way to combat this disease, millions of lives can be saved without having to resort to radiation or chemotherapy.
When a person has been diagnosed with cancer, they are subjected to chemotherapy or radiation to help control and destroy the cancerous cells within their body. However, both chemotherapy and radiation also affects the healthy and vital cells in their systems, making them weak and reducing their immunological capabilities. This makes them more susceptible to other diseases and conditions which could worsen their condition.
To ensure that people undergoing either chemotherapy or radiation are at their healthiest, they are advised to follow a specific diet. This helps them gain necessary nutrition to keep them fit enough to fight the deadly disease within them. Before we go into more details about cancer nutrition, let us first understand the disease better.
Simply put, cancer can be described as an abnormal growth of cells. It is also sometimes referred to as malignancy. Unfortunately for human beings, there are more than hundred kinds of cancer. These include skin cancer, lung cancer, stomach cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, lymphoma, among others. The symptoms of these conditions differ depending on the cancer type. A person diagnosed with cancer is normally subjected to radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery, or a combination of procedures, to help recover.
With a disease as deadly as this, people have better chances of recovery if their diagnoses is made at the earliest. People can perform routine self-exam for some kinds of cancers, such as breast, skin, prostate, etc. This can help them detect symptoms before the condition becomes serious. In most cases, cancer can be detected and later diagnosed after a tumor is found or as other symptoms start to develop. In other cases, doctors can identify cancer while evaluating and treating other conditions the patient may have had.
Physical examination, complete medical history, and laboratory studies often help while diagnosing cancer. When the doctor suspects the presence of a tumor, the patient undergoes imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT), ultrasound, or X-rays. These tests help doctors determine the location as well as the size of the cancer. Most cancers require a biopsy for confirmation.
The treatments to remove the tumor, eradicate it, or slow down its growth depend on the type and stage of cancer. These treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy, or radiation therapy. In most cases, a combination of these treatment procedures is necessary.
Chemotherapy is a form of treatment which uses powerful medication to kill cancer cells. It works throughout the patient’s body and targets cells that grow and multiply quickly. As effective as chemotherapy is, it can also affect some healthy cells as well. This drawback can cause severe side effects.
Radiation therapy helps combat cancer by using high-energy waves to destroy tumor cells. Unlike chemotherapy, this form of treatment is more specific and is focuses on destroying cancer cells without affecting healthy cells. Radiation can also cause side effects, and these depend on what form of radiation the patient is subjected to.
Like most forms of treatment, radiation and chemotherapy can cause several side effects. These range from mild to severe. Common side effects include:
Another side effect that people experience with these treatments is taste change. They notice that foods taste differently from before, especially salty, sweet, or bitter foods. Some foods also appear bland in taste. Some people might notice a chemical or metallic taste, especially after eating high-protein foods like meat. In some cases, people might find that all foods taste the same. Changes in taste can result in loss of appetite, food aversions, and weight loss.
Taste changes vary with the kind of treatment the person is on. It can also vary from time to time, causing people to become confused and averse to eating. Here are some ways people can deal with taste changes during cancer treatment:
When a person experiences taste changes, it is common that they lose their appetite and become averse to eating. This can cause an unhealthy loss of weight, making them weak and more susceptible to secondary infections and diseases. It is important that people undergoing cancer treatment to remain constantly hydrated. Patients are recommended to drink plenty of water through the day along with fresh fruit juices. They can also combine fruits and milk to make milkshakes or smoothies that taste great and are rich in nutrients.
Another aspect cancer patients should focus on is getting enough protein. Normally, people consume protein by eating meat, nuts, and green leafy vegetables. They can also use whey protein powders and high-protein shakes that are rich in essential nutrients. These can be easily mixed into food or milk and consumed during cancer treatment. Ready-to-serve meals are also available which contain high amounts of protein that help people maintain well-balanced diets. These are convenient options that ensure that cancer patients are not deprived of protein and remain healthy.
If normal foods lack flavor, patients are advised to try different marinades, seasonings, sauces, and ingredients which can improve the taste of food. Meat marinades, ketchup, barbecue sauce, herbs and spices, vinegar, soy sauce, syrups, etc. are known to improve flavors. They can also add bell peppers, onions, garlic, bits of bacon or ham, nuts, or cheese to boost flavors of bland food.
While dealing with cancer, which can physically and psychologically drain the person affected, it is important to make the arduous experience as easy and convenient as possible. It is also just as important to remain healthy through the ordeal so people can recover faster and are cured of this dangerous disease.