Half of cancer patients receive no dietary advice

21 September 2017

Eye-opening new figures from World Cancer Research Fund show that nearly half (47%) of cancer patients who have gone through treatment didn’t receive any dietary advice that could help them ease some of the side-effects of cancer treatment[1].

The YouGov survey commissioned by the cancer charity found that out of 129 people who have received treatment 47% of them had never received any dietary advice from a healthcare professional during their most recent treatment that could help them ease some of the side-effects of cancer treatment. A further 21% were only given a small amount of dietary advice.

The survey also found that out of 893 people who have a close family member who has had or is having cancer treatment, only seven per cent felt their family member received a lot of dietary advice that could help them ease some of the side-effects of cancer treatment.

In order to reverse this lack of dietary advice World Cancer Research Fund has created a new booklet, Eat Well During Cancer, backed by the British Dietetic Association, for those going through cancer. The information advises people on what foods may help them cope with the different side-effects of their cancer and their treatment, while having as much of a healthy and balanced diet as possible.

Side-effects such as fatigue (extreme tiredness), loss of appetite, sore mouth, nausea, constipation and weight loss can make eating well a challenge in itself.

World Cancer Research Fund’s survey adds to prior research that shows there is a lack of advice and consistency around a person’s cancer journey and diet[2].

Sarah James one of the publication authors and a nutritionist at World Cancer Research Fund, said:

“Side-effects of cancer treatment can make it incredibly difficult to know what to eat and at times to even eat at all. That’s why we’ve created the booklet to help people take a bit of control back over their health.

“Our new booklet, Eat Well During Cancer, will help patients understand what foods might actually help them cope with some of the debilitating side-effects of cancer treatment. The booklet is also full of easy, healthy and delicious recipes for people to try.”

Christine Birnie, 59 from Aberdeen who was diagnosed with leukaemia on Christmas Eve of 2009, said:

“At the time when I was diagnosed with leukaemia and going through treatment, the dietary advice I was given was confusing. It would have been a great comfort to me to understand exactly what I should be eating and the benefits of eating well.

“I found that when going through the difficult experience of cancer, being as healthy as you can be is incredibly important to help you feel a little better.

“I would definitely recommend World Cancer Research Fund’s new booklet as its practical tips and advice fill a great need to help people understand how eating healthy food can really help when going through cancer.”

Deborah Howland, Specialist Dietitian, from BDA said:

“When going through cancer, eating can be a challenge and knowing what to eat can be very difficult and sometimes confusing.  That’s why World Cancer Research Fund’s new booklet is a valuable piece of work which will be a real help to many people living with cancer. There are some invaluable tips on how different foods can help people cope with some of the common side-effects of cancer treatment.  

“It has the benefit of being written with specialist dietitians so people can be confident that the information is not only accurate but practical. The booklet won’t only be useful for patients but for health professionals too”.

Side-effects, alongside cancer-related metabolic changes, can lead to malnutrition. This is a common problem in cancer patients and has been recognised as an important component of adverse outcomes, including increased morbidity and mortality and decreased quality of life.[3]

The booklet also contains exclusive recipes, such as salmon with a nut and seed crust and gazpacho, which show how to put the advice into practice.

YouGov surveyed a total of 2,043 adults, out of which 129 respondents are receiving or have received treatment for cancer and 893 have a close family member who is receiving/ has received treatment for cancer.

– Ends –

For more information please contact the Media Team

Notes to editors:

About World Cancer Research Fund:

For the past 25 years, World Cancer Research Fund has been the UK’s leading charity dedicated to the prevention of cancer through diet, weight and physical activity. By funding and supporting research, developing policy recommendations and providing health information, we have ensured that people can make informed lifestyle choices to reduce their risk of developing a preventable cancer. As we look forward to our next 25 years, our scientific research ensures that we will continue to have the latest and most authoritative information at our fingertips, all underpinned by independent expert advice.

For more information visit www.wcrf-uk.org, follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/wcrf_uk, read our blog at https://www.wcrf-uk.org/our-blog/ or visit our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/wcrfuk

1 All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2043 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between  31st August – 1st September 2017.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). Available from World Cancer Research Fund

2 National Institute for Health Research, Cancer and Nutrition: Improving cancer prevention and care. For patients. For clinicians. For researchers. Report of Phase Two, July 2015 – March 2017 http://cancerandnutrition.nihr.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Cancer-a…

3 Sauer & Voss (2012). Abbott Nutrition: Improving Outcomes with Nutrition in Patients with Cancer.