Nutrition in Children with Cancer

Many pediatric cancer patients have no nutritional problems during cancer treatment: they are able to eat enough to have the strength and energy to enjoy their normal level of activity. However, some patients lose weight, grow more slowly than their healthy friends, often feel tired or irritable, and get infections easily. All of these symptoms are at least partially due to poor nutrition. Patients' inability to get enough nourishment can be due to the cancer, its type or location, as well as to the mode, frequency, and duration of its treatment. Some patients actually gain weight during therapy.

The goals of nutrition care for pediatric cancer patients are to help achieve normal growth and weight gain, continue normal activities, and prevent problems. Meeting nutrition goals for children with cancer can be difficult - there are many different types of and reasons for nutrition-associated problems.

So how can you help make sure that children with cancer get proper nutrition?

Sometimes the patient is simply too sick to eat or drink much.

Here are some basic guidelines for encouraging the patient with a poor appetite to eat adequately:

Often nutritional supplements can be helpful when food is refused.

But be sure to let the child's physician, nurse, or dietitian know when poor eating continues for more than two or three days so that alternate plans can be made before malnutrition sets in.

Some children gain too much weight during cancer treatment.

Finally, remember that eating is about more than just nutrition. It is a bonding interaction that is important to the family. Continue the family meal habits that were present prior to the illness. For example, continue to have "Sunday dinner" if that has been a family tradition. Set a place at the table and have the child sit with the family for meals, even though he/she may eat something different or decide not to eat at that time.