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  arrow Living with Cancer


Feeding an essential need

14 July 2009

By S. Indra Sathiabalan

According to the National Cancer Registry, the cancer incidence in Peninsular Malaysia between 2003 and 2005 recorded 67,792 new cases. It is believed that in Malaysia, cancer strikes one in seven men and one in six women.

While being diagnosed with cancer was a death sentence in the past, there are many treatments available now, depending on which stage of the disease you are diagnosed with. If it is detected at an early stage, your chances of survival are good.

When it comes to patients suffering from cancer, attending physicians often have to worry about drastic weight loss associated with the disease due to the treatment and the fact that the patient is not eating right.

In most societies, there are many pantang larang (what is forbidden) when it comes to what should or should not be eaten when suffering from diseases such as cancer.

Malaysian Oncological Society president Datuk Dr Ibrahim Wahid related a case where a patient in his early 40s lost a drastic amount of weight due to his diet of only fruits and vegetables. (In his community, starving the cancer was considered the way to go.) In the end, he became too weak.

"What you need is a well-balanced diet with enough proteins, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins so that you will be able to fight the disease.

"Only a strong body is able to withstand the treatments, which in turn help fight the disease," said Ibrahim when touching on nutrition at the launch of ProSure, Abbottís therapeutic nutrition for cancer patients.

Dr Isabel Correia, the assistant professor of surgery at Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil, added: "Nutrition is fundamental to you, to me, to everyone. It is also fundamental to our cancer patients."

Cancer cachexia or weight loss associated with cancer is something a lot of patients and some doctors believe is inevitable.

"Some doctors and nutritionists believe that it is important to improve the patientís nutritional status by giving them good nutrition. By doing so, we can guarantee a better quality of support," said Correia.

While in most cases losing weight is a good thing, in the case of drastic weight loss, it leads to a loss of muscle and fatigue.

"Some 20% of cancer deaths are not due to the cancer itself but rather to the weight loss," said Correia.

"If the patients had not lost so much weight, they might have lived longer.

"When you lose weight, you stop being mobile. You also lose muscle. You need respiratory muscles to breath and to cough or sneeze.

"If you canít sneeze or cough, you are in pulmonary stasis and gets infection. Because of the infection, you die."

It also affects heart muscles and when the heart doesnít beat properly, the patient is at a higher risk of mortality.

Many factors can cause a patient to stop eating.

Correia pointed out that this weight loss could be due to the patient suffering a loss of appetite due to depression or listening to other peopleís advice of not eating.

Side effects from cancer treatments like nausea can also lead to a loss of appetite. In such cases, the patients need to consult their physicians for treatments to help them keep their food down.

"Half of the patients who lost weight lose it during their treatment and more than one-third of them lose over 5% of their usual weight.

"Towards the end of their lives, 86% of them have lost too much weight."

The weight loss also causes problems during treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy in which good cells are killed along with cancer cells. If there are not enough healthy cells, the treatment is affected.

Cancer is inflammation, and weight loss leads to severe inflammation. Cancer is like a parasite which the body tries to get rid of. The bodyís immune response causes the inflammation.

"When inflammation is high, our appetite goes down. When you have a cold which is acute inflammation, you donít want to eat," added Correia.

She said that a formula rich in Omega 3 fatty acids is very good as a nutritional supplement for cancer patients. Omega 3 also helps prevent inflammation.

Talk to your doctor about your diet if you are diagnosed with cancer and perhaps consult a nutritionist.

This article was first published in on 12.May 2009

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