JoAnna is an Oncology Dietitian. She has 11 years of experience in medical nutrition therapy for cancer patients. Most recently, she is the head of nutrition services at cancer treatment centers of America, Philadelphia.
Can nutrition really make a difference in my outcomes as a cancer patient?
Yes! We know that 80% of adults living with cancer will have some degree of malnutrition during their journey, and that 1 in 3 will have some type of nutrient deficiency. Malnutrition may lead to treatment interruptions or reductions in dose. Do you want to maintain your strength, stamina and restore health, all while completing treatment on time and with less symptoms and side effects? If yes, then focusing in on your nutrition now is crucial!
As a person diagnosed with breast cancer, should I be avoiding soy?
Whole forms of soy food such as tofu, edamame and even soy milk have been shown to be beneficial for breast cancer at any stage. The estrogen like compounds in soy actually help to reduce your own (more powerful) estrogen, meaning less hormones in your body overall. Processed soy foods such as soy cheese, soy burgers, for example, are not included in this recommendation and should be avoided.
Why is it important to have a cancer specific dietitian?
In addition to the education required to become a dietitian, board certified oncology nutrition specialists have gone through at least 2000 hours of oncology specific training and have passed an exam to become credentialed. As of July 2020, there are currently only 806 board certified oncology nutrition specialists in the country. These professionals have the most up to date knowledge on varying cancer types, treatment regimes and how to best support your body during this hard time.
What should I eat?
This is a very personal question that will be different for each person depending on their history, genetics and cancer type, among other things. There is no one perfect diet that fits everyone. Broadly, you should start focusing in on more fruits and vegetables because they are your main source of cancer fighting nutrition. Aim for 5-9 servings each day! Certain foods are better for certain cancer types, but big picture you can’t go wrong starting with this.
What should I NOT eat?
Again, this is dependent upon the person and cancer type. There are definitely some foods that no one should be consuming in any meaningful amounts. These include processed meats such as hot dogs, lunch meat, sausage and bacon. Another food, which shouldn’t shock you, is sugar. I’m not talking about natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables, but that overly processed white stuff that is everywhere! Sugar single handedly increases your risk for becoming overweight and diabetic, which in turn exponentially increases your risk for all cancer types.