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Portion-controlled and tailored food offerings for cancer patients undergoing treatment: a pilot study identifying characteristics of those requesting them

November 15, 2021

Supportive Care in Cancer

Authors: Stacey J. Bell1, Pei-Ra Ling, Bruce Moskowitz


Cancer patients actively undergoing treatment are often not recipients of dietary counseling, yet experience fatigue and food aversions that lead to weight loss. The Cancer Nutrition Consortium is an organization that funds research related to nutritional issues that affect those undergoing cancer treatments. Based on these studies, Hormel Health Labs created easy-to-prepare food and beverage offerings to meet the unique, and short-term nutritional needs of these cancer patients. These included meals (beef, chicken, and vegetarian), shakes (chocolate and vanilla), and a protein powder. The purpose of this pilot study was to determine patient characteristics of those requesting these items using a survey to capture information about the patient and how they liked the food offerings.

One hundred thirty-seven cancer patients undergoing treatment (79% female) were provided the special foods and beverages, and resided in 38 of the 50 States in the United States. Of this group, 125 completed the survey and had a mean age of 56  14 years. The most common type of cancer represented was breast (45%) followed by cancer of the reproductive system (12%). Nearly half (43%) reported having more than one treatment (e.g., chemo- and radio-therapy, surgery). Most participants experienced a decreased appetite (69%), dry mouth (74%), and food aversion (74%). More than half (53%) lost weight.

Using a rating scale of one (worst) to five (best), all offerings had at least mean scores of 3.50. The highest rated offerings were the two shakes and two meals (beef and chicken). More than 80% of the participants were able to consume most of the shakes, and 75% of the group was able to consume most of the meals. About half of the participants stated they felt pleasantly full after consuming all the food offerings except, as expected, after the protein powder, due to its comparatively low energy content. Gastric-related side effects were nearly non-existent (fewer than 4% of the group reporting any discomfort). Nearly all (96%) of the participants rated the food offerings were a nutritional asset.

Easy-to-prepare food offerings, tailored to meet the nutritional needs of patients undergoing cancer treatment, were well received, satisfying, and produced virtually no side effects. Patients with a variety of types of cancer would likely benefit from using these food offerings based on the current findings