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Many people make changes to their diet after a cancer diagnosis as a way of staying as healthy as possible.
People may also make changes to help their body cope with the effects of cancer and its treatments. Along with giving up smoking| and increasing physical activity|, following a healthy diet is one of the most important changes people can make for their general health.
However, there’s no scientific evidence that eating a particular diet or cutting out certain foods can treat cancer.
Most doctors and specialist nurses recommend a well-balanced diet that you enjoy. Your doctor, specialist nurse or dietitian can give you advice on healthy eating.
You might find it helpful to see our section about diet and cancer|. You could also watch our video with tips for healthy eating|.
You can also get nutritional advice from Penny Brohn Cancer Care|. Their approach to healthy eating aims to support the health and well-being of people with cancer and is based on current evidence on nutrition and cancer.
Nutritional therapists focus on using diet as part of your body’s healing process. They don’t aim to cure cancer through diet, but try to improve the natural health of the body. A nutritional therapist will assess your general health and recommend a diet that’s specific to your needs. There’s no evidence that nutritional therapy can cure a cancer or reduce the chance of it coming back.
We need nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, for our bodies to work properly. The best way to get these nutrients is by eating a healthy diet. However, some people with cancer aren’t able to get all the nutrients they need from their diet. This may be because of problems with eating| or because their bodies aren’t able to absorb the nutrients.
If you’re concerned that you might not be able to follow a balanced diet or get the nutrition you need from your food, you can ask your doctor or nurse to refer you to a dietitian. They can give you advice on what to eat and may prescribe nutritional supplements for you. If you aren’t able to eat a healthy, balanced diet, your doctor may prescribe a daily multivitamin and multi-mineral supplement to give you the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of the nutrients you need.
Despite a lot of research into cancer and dietary supplements, there isn’t good evidence that taking them can help treat cancer or stop it coming back. But, research has found that taking certain supplements could increase the risk of some cancers developing.
Some people think that if something is good for you in small amounts, taking larger amounts is better still. But this isn’t always the case. Nutrients, which are essential for our health in small amounts, can be toxic and cause unpleasant side effects when taken in large amounts. And some may interact with or lessen the effectiveness of cancer treatments.
Antioxidants, such as vitamins A, C and E, coenzyme Q10 and selenium are some of the most commonly taken dietary supplements.
Antioxidants can help to prevent cell damage. Because of this some doctors have concerns that taking antioxidant supplements during cancer treatment may interfere with the effectiveness of the treatment. Your cancer specialist may recommend that you don’t take antioxidant supplements during your cancer treatment, unless it’s as part of a clinical research trial|.
If you want more detailed information about a particular antioxidant or dietary supplement you can call us|.
Content last reviewed: 1 October 2011
Next planned review: 2013
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
A macmillan dietitian explains the role of diet, and offers tips for healthy eating.
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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