Meeting with a dietitian during cancer treatment: What to expect
While there are no foods that can kill cancer cells, the foods you eat during cancer treatment can have a big impact. Changes to your diet can ease side effects or help your body stay strong and healthy during treatment.
“Your nutrition is an important part of your cancer treatment and overall well-being,” says Erma Levy, a clinical dietitian at MD Anderson. “True, it’s just one part of the puzzle when it comes to your treatment. But it’s an important part.”
For many patients, meeting with a dietitian is a new experience. We asked Levy what you can expect. Here’s what she had to say.
Prepare before your appointment with a dietitian
It’s important to prepare for your first appointment with a dietitian to make sure you get the most out of it. Levy recommends bringing the following to your appointment:
Any supplements or vitamins you’ve been taking. If you can’t bring the actual supplement with you, take a picture of the package, including any ingredients or directions, so your dietitian can consider how this may be affecting you or interacting with your diet.
A list of any side effects you’ve been experiencing. Include when you experience the side effects. Your dietitian may be able to make changes to your diet that could ease side effects like nausea, upset stomach, headaches or fatigue.
A food log. Keep track of what you’ve been eating. “If you can do it for a week, that’s great. If you only keep track for a day, that’s fine, too,” Levy says. “Letting your dietitian know what you’re eating can help them better understand your diet.”
Any questions you may have. “We’re here to help you,” Levy says. “Don’t be afraid to ask us anything.”
Your nutrition and physical assessments
During the appointment, your dietitian may perform a nutrition assessment and a physical assessment. During each one, your dietitian may ask you a lot of questions about your eating habits and how you’ve been feeling. The questions vary from patient to patient.
If you’ve lost a significant amount of weight, the dietitian will perform a physical assessment. During the physical assessment, your dietitian will look for signs of malnutrition. Studies show that up to 85% of cancer patients suffer from malnutrition at some point during their treatment, depending on the type of cancer. Signs of malnutrition may include fat loss or muscle loss. Your dietitian will also check your skin, nails, eyes and mouth for signs of malnutrition.
Follow up after your appointment
Don’t be afraid to reach out to your dietitian with questions that may come up after your initial appointment. Be sure to pay attention to how the foods you eat affect how you feel.
Your nutrition goals may change depending upon where you’re at in your cancer treatment. During your treatment, you may be focused on limiting side effects. After your cancer treatment, you may be focused on how your diet can reduce your chance of recurrence.