Improving cancer patients’ diet management

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According to Flinders University researchers, a new dietary tool to swiftly and precisely test micronutrient levels seeks to help cancer patients fight disease, paving the path for better nutritional solutions for oncology services.

Cancer is the biggest cause of death worldwide, with 10 million deaths and 19.3 million new cases in 2019. Chronic inflammation is a risk factor for cancer.

“Dietary intake, particularly anti-inflammatory micronutrient consumption, can play a role in both cancer initiation and treatment-related outcomes experienced by patients receiving systemic cancer therapy,” says Mitali Mukherjee, a Ph.D. candidate at Flinders University and an accredited practicing dietitian at Flinders Medical Centre.

“In oncology, diet and nutritional choices are critical and should be carefully maintained. “Dietary micronutrient intakes are infrequently examined in a clinical environment,” she adds, adding that some cancer patients don’t have their diet history checked unless they are losing weight or are referred to a dietician.

“Our 21-item meal frequency questionnaire for 14 common micronutrients, which was tested on 112 cancer patients, can be completed in around 10 minutes and could be used to assess patients with poor micronutrient intakes.”

“We think it will pave the way for dietary counseling in clinical practice and future observational research with chemotherapy and immunotherapy cancer therapies,” says the study’s lead author.

Ms. Mukherjee aims to broaden the study by using the tool to assess the validity of anti-inflammatory foods among oncology patients receiving systemic treatment, along with other SA Health and Flinders University experts such as Professor Michelle Miller and medical oncologist Dr. Shawgi Sukumaran.

Copper, iron, vitamins A, E, and D, alpha-linolenic acid, long-chain omega 3 fatty acids (LC n3-FA), arginine, glutamic acid, isoleucine, leucine, and valine were among the 12 nutrients examined by the instrument.

“More research is needed to see if micronutrient intakes and an anti-inflammatory diet might help modify the tumor microenvironment, minimize inflammatory side effects, and immune-related adverse events,” adds senior author Dr. Sukumaran.

Dietary variables have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, including breast, colorectal, head and neck, lung, and prostate cancers. Side effects, chemotherapy, and other cancer treatment options are all influenced by dietary considerations.

Previous research has demonstrated the benefits of a Mediterranean or less processed or refined diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish, whole grains, and healthy fats, as well as a lower dietary inflammatory index score.

There is currently no validated tool for measuring micronutrient intakes in a clinical environment, according to Ms. Mukherjee. “Collecting extensive dietary information from a diet history and evaluating it with Foodworks software to determine micronutrient intakes can take up to two hours,” she explains, “which is generally not possible in clinical practice.”

The study was published in Nutrients and titled “Validation of a Short Food Frequency Questionnaire to Measure Dietary Intake of a Selection of Micronutrients in Oncology Patients Undergoing Systemic Therapy.”

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