Cancer Answers: Can Nutrition and Exercise Improve the Quality of Life for Head and Neck Cancer Patients?

Question: How can nutrition and exercise improve the quality of life for head and neck cancer patients?

Head and neck cancer affects more than 52,000 Americans each year and accounts for nearly 5% of new cancer cases worldwide. Treating head and neck cancer with concurrent chemotherapy with curative intent can cause side effects that lead to long-term deterioration in quality of life and deterioration that continues for years after treatment.

Many patients with head and neck cancer experience side effects associated with treatment, such as; Difficulty swallowing, slurred speech, loss of sense of taste and smell, and involuntary weight loss, which can often be attributed to reduced muscle mass.

There are a few things you can do to try to maintain your body weight during treatment. Nutrition can be one of the tools that helps ensure that you are getting enough calories and the right nutrients to help your body fight cancer.

Often times when you undergo cancer treatment, your body’s demand for calories increases. This can be a challenge to increase your calories during treatment, so try to eat several smaller meals throughout the day, perhaps every 2-3 hours. With each meal, try to include some carbohydrates, fats, and protein.

Make sure to chew your food. You can try chewing every bite 50 times or try incorporating soft foods that make swallowing easier. It may be beneficial to steam or boil vegetables instead of eating them raw. Soft foods like scrambled eggs, egg salad, soups, stews, oatmeal, cream of wheat, tofu, milk, yogurt, cheese, casseroles, mashed potatoes, or macaroni and cheese are just a few options.

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Aileen Morales

"Beer nerd. Food fanatic. Alcohol scholar. Tv practitioner. Writer. Troublemaker. Falls down a lot."

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