Breast cancer treatment: Eat well for a healthy recovery

The significance of a healthy diet and exercise routine cannot be emphasised enough. But it is even more important during breast cancer treatment.
breast cancer
Breast cancer treatment needs care and caution. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Dr Rohan Khandelwal Published: 18 Dec 2021, 11:30 am IST
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Staying healthy and treating your body with care is necessary for every individual, and should not be done only when suffering from an illness. Breast cancer can be life-threatening and may give rise to several other complications. However, maintaining a healthy diet can help you fight it better.

It is important to follow a healthy diet and routine as cancer affects your appetite, causing problems like nausea, diarrhea, changes in taste buds, and other health implications. Eating right will help you manage body mass and weight, body energy and provide you with the right support during cancer treatment.

Cancer and cancer treatments minimize the immune power of the body by attacking the white blood cells in your blood, making you prone to infections. It may include allergic reactions or infections from certain foods as well.

Keep in mind these tips that can be beneficial in breast cancer treatment:

  • Keep your hands clean; wash them frequently especially, before and after eating;
  • Maintain hygiene in the kitchen, dining table, and other areas that come in contact with food;
  • Avoid keeping different foods in the same storage containers (cross-contamination);
  • Wash fruits, vegetables, pulses, and other raw food with water before consuming.
  • Consult your healthcare expert in case of any doubts.

What can patients eat and what should be avoided?

Although there is no specific diet for people undergoing breast cancer treatment, eating healthy and following a diet routine will help you in coping with the symptoms or side-effects of ongoing treatment. You can get a recommendation or a diet chart from a registered dietician to know what is best for you.
But these are a few tips to keep in mind:

breast cancer
Self-examination can help detect breast cancer early on. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
  • Eat food rich in fibre such as raw fruits (citrus) and vegetables (green leafy);
  • Eat whole grain, legumes, lentils, and nuts to make your body stronger;
  • Add protein and healthy fat to maintain your weight. Eat eggs, chicken, fish, cheese, seeds, avocado, beans, and other sources;
  • Use olive oil instead of other regular cooking oil;
  • Alliums vegetables like garlic, onion, scallions are full of antioxidants and help fight cancer;
  • Use herbs and spices (turmeric, curry, garlic, pepper, ginger, oregano, parsley, cinnamon, etc.) in regular food;
  • Avoid or quit drinking alcohol to improve the recovery process and lower other risks;
  • Avoid processed/packaged food as it contains a high level of unsaturated fat or sodium and is harmful for health;
  • Do not consume energy drinks, packed juices, and drinks full of added sugar;
  • Replace refined carbs (bread, bakery items, pasta, soda) with whole-grain products and nutrients.

Effects of breast cancer treatments and how to tackle it

Breast cancer treatment might have some side-effects like loss/ increase in appetite, constipation, nausea, weight loss, etc.

In case of loss of appetite:

  • Eat small 5-6 meals for a complete daily diet
  • Eat while watching TV or your favourite show to distract yourself.
  • You can also eat in someone’s company to uplift your mood and eat healthier
  • Schedule reminders for drinking water and staying hydrated
  • Experiment with your recipes to make food tasty yet healthy

In case of an increase in hunger:

  • Eat frequently but eat in small portions
  • Eat healthily and keep your stomach full for a long time
  • Add food rich in nutrients and fibre to your diet

In case of constipation:

  • Drink juices if you do not want to eat solid food to cover daily nutrients
  • Avoid food that is bad for the stomach and causes gastric problems
  • Eat fermented food, fibre-rich food, and probiotic supplements to calm your stomach
breast cancer
What you should do while experiencing constipation in breast cancer. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

In case of bad taste/smell:

  • Adding flavors enhances the taste. You could include pickles, vinegar, sauces, dressing, lemon, etc.
  • Eat citric fruits to tickle the taste buds
  • Enhance regular dishes by adding seasoning and spices
  • Add the sweetness of honey or syrups in case of bitterness
  • Clean your mouth and tongue
  • Eat food at room temperature to avoid any smell
  • Use scent or diffuser to keep the indoor air fresh
  • Maintain proper ventilation

In the case of vomiting:

  • Eat fruits or drink juices
  • Drink soups or herbal beverages if you have a problem chewing or swallowing
  • Avoid greasy or oily food and heavy meals
  • Do not take medicines empty stomach, unless directed by the doctor

In case of weight loss:

  • Eat green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, and fruits to nourish your body
  • Eat high-calorie food
  • Add dairy products, omega 3, and other vital minerals to maintain body strength and fight cancer

Coping with breast cancer treatment with a routine

Following a routine, especially in the morning, enhances your overall health and gives a fresh start to the day:

  • Daily exercises for at least 150 minutes at a moderate intensity will help you relax and focus better
  • You can walk, swim, do yoga, or ride a bicycle to replace regular exercises
  • Morning exercises are more effective and boost your metabolism as compared to exercising at other times of the day
  • Taking part in fun activities, going on trips, and spending time with family is recommended. It will control your stress and make you feel better
  • You can also train under a professional and set goals. Aiming and achieving something will boost your confidence and spirit
breast cancer
Weight loss after breast cancer can be managed with apt fitness routine. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

The last word

Cancer treatment can take a long time. Supplements and therapy prescribed by a doctor are necessary, but nothing can replace the benefits of a healthy diet and routine. Eating right can minimise the after-effects of chemotherapy and will boost your recovery process

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About the Author

Dr Rohan Khandelwal is the Lead Consultant Oncology and Head of the Breast Centre at CK Birla Hospital, Gurugram. He is a breast cancer surgeon specialising in the management of benign and cancerous breast disorders. He credibly leads the Breast Centre, the only dedicated unit in North India offering comprehensive breast health services. He has more than 17 years of experience and has done more than 500 breast cancer surgeries. Dr Rohan has authored 22 articles in various national and international journals, authored 1 book and 1 video, and co-authored 2 chapters. He heads the Medical Affairs at Curofy (Doctors networking App) and is also editor-in-chief for the New Indian Journal of Surgery and Journal of Young Medical Researchers. He has previously worked with Safdarjung Hospital, Max Healthcare, Mazumdar Shaw Cancer Center, Narayana Hrudayalaya, W Pratiksha. ...Read More

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