It has been shown that patterns of poor nutritional intake may exacerbate the elevated morbidity experienced by cancer survivors. While most cancer patients in the United States are motivated to seek information about food choices and dietary changes to improve their health, it remains unclear whether they adhere to existing dietary guidelines and whether cancer survivors’ diets differ from those of individuals without cancer over the long term. Now, a new study from Tufts University, University of Alabama, and the Cancer Prevention Institute of California has compared cancer patient’s dietary patterns to federal guidelines and found that they often fall short. The team state that their findings point to the need for dietary interventions in this vulnerable population. The study is published in the journal CANCER.
Previous studies show that cancer survivors have significantly elevated risks of a variety of health problems, and nutrition is among the few modifiable behaviours that can prevent or delay their onset. Nutrition therapy is used to help cancer patients get the nutrients they need to keep up their body weight and strength, keep body tissue healthy, and fight infection. Eating habits that are good for cancer patients can be very different from the usual healthy eating guidelines. Some cancer treatments work better when the patient is well nourished and gets enough calories and protein in the diet. Patients who are well-nourished may have a better chance of recovery and quality of life. It should also be noted that some tumours make chemicals that change the way the body uses certain nutrients. The body’s use of protein, carbohydrates, and fat may be affected, especially by tumours of the stomach or intestines. A patient may seem to be eating enough, however, the body may not be able to absorb all the nutrients from the food.
The current study analyzed the dietary intake and quality in 1533 adult cancer survivors who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999 to 2010 compared with dietary intake and quality in 3075 individuals who had no history of cancer and were matched to the cancer survivors by age, sex, and race/ethnicity. Dietary intake was assessed using 24-hour dietary recalls. The 2010 Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2010) was used to evaluate diet quality.
Results show that cancer survivors had poor adherence to the guidelines, with a total Healthy Eating Index score of 47.2 out of 100 compared with a score of 48.3 in adults without a history of cancer. Data findings show that their adherence was especially poor concerning recommended intake for green vegetables and whole grains. The group observed that compared with individuals with no history of cancer, cancer survivors consumed less fiber and more empty calories, such as those from solid fats or added sugars. The team stress that in some types of cancer a patient may be left confused by being told to eat food classed as unhealthy, however, in their case, deemed necessary and ‘healthy’.
Data findings also show that cancer survivors had low dietary intakes of vitamin D (31 percent of the recommended intake), vitamin E (47 percent), potassium (55 percent), and calcium (73 percent), and high intakes of saturated fat (112 percent) and sodium (133 percent). Results show that diet quality in cancer survivors increased with age and survivors with lower education (high school or less) had significantly worse diet quality than those with higher education. It was found that survivors who were current smokers had significantly worse diet quality than non-smokers or former smokers. The lab state that for breast, prostate, lung, and colorectal cancer; breast cancer survivors had the best diet quality whereas lung cancer survivors had the worst diet quality.
The team surmise that knowing how well cancer survivors adhere to federal dietary guidelines can help inform evidence-based priorities for improving nutritional intake in cancer survivors in the United States. They go on to add that dietary changes that include more fiber, fruit, and vegetables in the diet and less fat, sodium, and added sugar would be important for cancer survivors. For the future, oncology care providers can play critical roles in reinforcing the importance of a healthful diet, and can refer patients to registered dietitians who are experts in oncology care or to other reputable sources in order to improve survivors’ overall health.
Source: Wiley Online Library