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Nutritional Requirements for a Child With Cancer

The importance of good nutrition:

Good nutrition is very important for children being treated for cancer. Children with cancer often have poor appetites due to one, or more, of the following:

Poor nutrition contributes to poor growth. If a child with cancer maintains adequate nutrition, then he/she may be more likely to:

Special diets for children with cancer:

Children with cancer often have increased calorie and protein needs. Protein is needed for growth and to help the body repair itself. Getting enough calories can help the body grow, heal, and prevent weight loss. If your child is having trouble eating enough calories and protein, your child's physician or dietitian may suggest serving high-calorie and high-protein foods (i.e., eggs, milk, peanut butter, and cheese).

Sometimes, even when high-calorie and high-protein foods are offered, children with cancer have trouble eating enough. Tube feedings may be necessary to help provide your child with adequate nutrition or to prevent malnutrition. This involves placing a small tube (called a nasogastric, or NG tube) through the nose, down the esophagus and into the stomach. A high-calorie formula or supplement can be given to your child through this tube to help promote appropriate growth and development.

Children undergoing treatment for cancer sometimes need total parenteral nutrition (TPN) to help meet their nutritional needs. TPN is a special mixture of glucose, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals that are given through an IV into the veins. Many people call this "intravenous feedings." TPN provides the nutrients your child needs when he/she cannot eat or absorb the nutrients from foods. The TPN solution is usually infused continuously over several hours of the day.

Managing treatment side effects and maintaining proper nutrition:

Your child's cancer treatment (chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery) may cause side effects that make it difficult to eat enough food. The following are some of the side effects and ideas on how to manage them:

Poor appetite:

Mouth sores:

Taste changes:

Dry mouth:

Nausea and vomiting:

Diarrhea:

Constipation:

Tooth decay:

The treatment of cancer can be difficult for anyone of any age. Supportive care (treatment of disease side effects or symptoms) from the various members of the healthcare team, including dietitians and child life therapists, can make the nutritional aspects of treatment less difficult. Suggestions for creating a child-centered environment, making tasty high-calorie snacks, and possible alternatives to oral nutrition are a part of the supportive care included in the treatment of cancer.

Every child is different and every child tolerates treatment differently. Your child's physician and healthcare team will discuss the best method of promoting a healthy nutritional status during your child's treatment.

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