Nutrition plays a vital role in cancer treatment and recovery. Patients with good nutrition feel better — and have better outcomes. That’s why we have dietitians with expertise in cancer care to help you manage the effects of cancer and treatment. Your dietitian can help you:
- Maintain your weight and strength
- Reduce the risk of malnutrition
- Reduce anxiety and discomfort involving food
- Prepare for surgery
- Recover from surgery more quickly
- Address barriers to proper nutrition
Understanding nutrition and cancer
Effects of cancer and treatment
Cancer and cancer treatment can have a big impact on nutrition, appetite and weight. Many patients may be affected by malnutrition when they are diagnosed with cancer.
- Cancer: Some cancers change your body’s metabolism and digestion, making it difficult to maintain your weight. Cancers of the digestive system can hinder your body’s ability to process food. Cancers of the head and neck may impair your ability to eat. Ongoing weight loss can develop into cachexia (kuh-KEK-see-uh), a wasting syndrome that can leave patients less able to tolerate treatment.
- Cancer treatment: Side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy can include dry mouth, nausea, poor appetite, taste changes, constipation and diarrhea. All can affect your desire to eat or your ability to get enough nutrition.
- Other issues: Patients with side effects can become anxious about eating and drinking, sometimes leading to a cycle of worsening symptoms. Patients also may have barriers to good nutrition, such as lack of money or transportation, or physical impairments that make it difficult to get food.
How nutrition services can help
- Preparation: Studies have shown that even a few weeks of proper nutrition before cancer surgery can result in fewer complications, less-severe complications and shorter recovery time, including less time in the hospital. “Prehabilitation” may include supplemental nutrition in the days before and after cancer surgery to improve outcomes.
- Managing cancer and treatment effects: Your dietitian will assess your nutrition status and provide ongoing evaluation and support throughout treatment. The dietitian will recommend interventions — such as enzyme replacement or ways to tame nausea, for example — based on your individual needs.
- Barriers to nutrition: Your dietitian can help you address any concerns about access to proper nutrition. The dietitian can provide recipes as well as meal and snack ideas. The dietitian can also connect you with OHSU social workers, speech therapists, physical therapists and others for additional help.
How our services work
Our dietitians meet patients on our Marquam Hill and South Waterfront campuses, often by joining an existing appointment. Patients can also come to our nutrition consultation rooms or consult by phone.
The dietitian will ask about:
- Medical history
- Weight and any recent weight changes
- Appetite and what you’re eating and drinking, including a typical day’s diet
- Any symptoms
- Activity level
- Barriers to better nutrition
The dietitian may do a nutrition-focused physical exam, checking signs such as fat and muscle levels.
Your dietitian will develop a plan for your individual needs. This could include:
- Setting nutrition goals.
- Recommending changes in how much and how often you eat and drink.
- Providing recipes, handouts and online resources so you can take charge of your nutrition.
- Providing counseling to improve nutrition and to ease fears around treatments such as feeding tubes.
- Offering information on complementary therapies such as herbs and supplements to make sure they’re safe and to reduce the risk that they’ll interfere with your treatment.
Our dietitians can help you improve long-term nutrition and lifestyle habits. They are also available to help you with nutrition issues that arise before, during and after treatment.
Amanda Bryant, RD, CSO, LD: Bryant, a registered and licensed dietitian with certification as an oncology (cancer) specialist, works with patients who have lung, urological (such as kidney and prostate) and gastrointestinal (such as colon, liver and pancreatic) cancers. She is available at our Marquam Hill and South Waterfront campuses, and can also consult by phone.
Katherine Bagwell, RD, LD: Bagwell, a registered and licensed dietitian, works with patients who have breast, lung, sarcoma, blood cancer, melanomas, brain tumors, and head and neck cancers. She also works with patients in clinical trials. She is available at our Marquam Hill and South Waterfront campuses, and can also consult by phone.
- “Eating Hints: Before, During and After Cancer Treatment,” National Cancer Institute
- “Understanding Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI),” OHSU
- American Institute for Cancer Research Healthy Recipes
- Cook For Your Life
- Diet and Nutrition, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
- Infused Waters
- “Eating Well Through Cancer,” by Holly Clegg and Gerald Miletello, M.D.
- “The Cancer Lifeline Cookbook,” by Kimberly Mathai and Ginny Smith
- “The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen,” by Rebecca Katz, with Mat Edelson
- “The Essential Cancer Treatment Nutrition Guide and Cookbook,” by Jean LaMantia, R.D., with Neil Berinstein, M.D.
- “One Bite at a Time,” by Rebecca Katz, with Mat Edelson
Request an appointment
Call 503-418-9731 or ask your care team for a referral to an OHSU cancer dietitian.
Check our Support Groups and Classes page for free nutrition classes.