Cancer Nutrition Consortium

Founding Research: The Impact of Cancer Treatment on Patients’ Diets and Food Preferences

Posted on: March 3, 2015

The Impact of Cancer Treatment on Patients’ Diets and Food Preferences

Authors: Kisha I. Coa; Stacey Bell; Joel B. Epstein; David Ettinger; Aminah Jatoi; Terry Langbaum; Kathy McManus; Mary Platek; Wendy Price; Meghan Stewart; Theodoros N. Teknos; Bruce Moskowitz

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Independent Nutritional Consultant; Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute; City of Hope; Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center; Mayo Clinic Cancer Center; Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Dana Farber Cancer Institute; New York University; WHP Research, Inc; Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center; Bruce and Marsha Moskowitz Foundation

Background: There are more than 13.7 million cancer survivors in the United States.  Most patients diagnosed with cancer have some type of treatment, and patients undergoing cancer treatment experience a multitude of symptoms, including fatigue, unintentional weight change, nausea, and pain, that can influence their quality of life during and after treatment.  Dietary changes have been identified as a contributing factor to these symptoms.  This study sought to describe the dietary changes experienced by cancer patients and to identify associations between these changes and common treatment side effects.

Methods: A convenience sample of cancer patients aged 18 years and older undergoing active treatment were recruited from seven cancer centers.  Participants completed a survey that included questions about demographics, cancer treatment, dietary changes, and quality of life.  A descriptive analysis was conducted to estimate prevalence of dietary changes and chi-squared tests were used to examine associations between dietary changes and health outcomes.

Results: A total of 1,199 cancer patients participated in this study.  Approximately 40% of patients reported a decreased appetite since beginning treatment.  Increased taste sensitivities were more common than decreased taste sensitivities, with increased sensitivity to metallic being the most common taste sensitivity (18.6%).  Patients also had increased sensitivities to certain smells including cleaning solutions (23.4%), perfume (22.4%), and food cooking (11.4%).  Patients reported a wide range of food preferences and aversions.  Patients who had less energy or lost weight since beginning treatment were more likely than others to report treatment induced dietary changes.

Conclusions: For many patients, cancer treatment makes it difficult to obtain adequate nutrition. There is a need for partnerships between physicians, nutrition researchers, registered dietitians, food scientists, chefs, and patients/survivors to come up with strategies that both address prevailing patient concerns and are appealing to patients.


Funding provided by: Delaware North