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Why diet is important

A balanced diet is an important part of coping with cancer and its treatments.

How eating well helps

Eating and drinking a balanced diet plays an important part in coping with cancer and its treatments. Up to 4 out of 10 people (40%) have unintended weight loss when diagnosed with cancer, or have problems with nutrition early on.

A good diet can help your body to:

  • cope with treatment side effects
  • handle the most beneficial dose of certain treatments
  • recover and heal faster
  • fight off infections
  • feel stronger, healthier and have more energy

If you are eating and drinking well, you can cope better and recover faster. This could improve your chance of survival.

You need a balanced diet, with plenty of calories, to keep your immune system working well. This can help you fight off infections, and can help your body to kill cancer cells.

A balanced diet

It is important to include everything you need in your diet, including:

  • protein
  • carbohydrates
  • fat
  • vitamins and minerals
  • water
  • fibre

You may hear doctors use the term malnourished. This means getting too little of the types of food necessary for good health.

Not eating enough protein and calories is one of the main problems faced by people with cancer. You need extra protein for healing - for example, after surgery. 

Even in good health, your immune system roughly uses a third of all the calories you eat. So if you aren't eating enough food, you might be more likely to get infections. You might find it harder to fight an infection off if you get one.

Screening people for malnutrition

Being poorly nourished is known as malnutrition. About 3 million of people in Britain have malnutrition. This affects their health and ability to work. Some people are more at risk than others. 

The British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (BAPEN) have started a programme called the ‘Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool’ (MUST). This simple tool is available to GPs and other people working in health care. They should use the tool to identify people who are at risk of or who are already malnourished. These people may need help with their diet.

For general information and support contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Information and help

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About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.