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Health Information For Parents
Eating well can help kids with cancer feel better and cope with the side effects of cancer or its treatments.
To keep up their strength and deal with side effects, kids should stay hydrated, take only doctor-recommended supplements, and eat as well as possible, even though that sometimes can be hard. For some kids undergoing treatment, that might mean getting enough to eat; for others, it could mean making sure not to eat too much.
Kids being treated for cancer often lose a lot of water from vomiting, diarrhea, or by just not drinking enough. This can lead to dehydration. To avoid it, make sure your child gets plenty of fluids. Tap, filtered, or bottled water is best, but your child can also get necessary fluids from other sources, like juices (100% juice is best) and soups.
Water helps with nearly every body function — from digestion and metabolizing fat, to flushing toxins from the body and maintaining body temperature. Getting enough fluids also helps prevent constipation, a condition that can make a child even less inclined to eat.
Every kid with cancer has specific nutritional needs, so it’s important to talk to a nutritionist about what would be best for your child. In general, kids with cancer have an increased need for protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
Protein helps the body grow, repair tissues, build blood cells, and replenish the immune system. Getting enough protein can help your child heal faster from the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy, while also helping to prevent infections. Foods like cheese, eggs, milk, yogurt, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, peanut butter, nuts, lentils, and soy are all good sources of protein.
Carbohydrates are the body’s fuel, providing energy for cells and helping to maintain organ function. Good sources of carbs include breads, pasta, potatoes, rice, cereals, fruits, corn, and beans. Whole-grain breads and pastas are usually best because they add fiber, which helps kids feel fuller longer and prevents constipation, a common side effect of cancer treatment.
Fats help the body store energy, insulate body tissues, and carry certain vitamins throughout the bloodstream. Fats also are dense in calories, which is important to a child who might be losing weight during treatment. Not all fats are created equal, though. Unsaturated fats that are found in fish, nuts, olive oil, and vegetables like avocados are much healthier than saturated fats and trans fats that are found in red meats and greasy, fried foods.
Dietary supplements usually aren’t recommended, as they can interfere with some cancer treatments. Don’t give your child any supplement unless your health care provider recommends it. It’s best for kids to get their nutrients through food.
When kids aren’t feeling their best, it can be difficult to get them to eat. Try these tips to help your child:
Many kids undergoing cancer treatment tend to eat less and lose weight because their appetites are affected.
But some kids actually have increased appetites, especially if they’re on steroid medicines that can make them hungrier. This can lead to fluid retention and weight gain. These problems will go away after treatment ends. But in the meantime, it’s important for kids to maintain a healthy weight.
These tips can help:
When the steroid or other treatment ends, your child’s appetite should return to normal and may even decrease for a short time. This is normal and not typically a cause for alarm. Your child’s doctor will probably be expecting the weight loss associated with this and will keep a close eye on it.
Cancer and its treatments can cause a number of side effects, including nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, mouth sores, constipation, and diarrhea. They also can:
Fortunately, once treatment ends, these problems go away.
In the meantime, help with nausea and vomiting by making sure your child takes all medicines correctly and eats the right things. Offer bland foods, especially on days when your child has treatment. Avoid salty, sweet, fatty, and fried foods. Food smells also can play a part in nausea. Consider offering foods with little or no smell, and don’t cook hot foods around your child.
To help control diarrhea, give your child foods like white bread, bananas, white rice, and applesauce that are easy to digest. Avoid dairy products; greasy, spicy, or fried foods; high-fiber foods; raw fruits and vegetables; and foods like cabbage and broccoli that can cause gas. Kids with diarrhea should drink more than usual to replace lost fluids.
To help control constipation, offer your child high-fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole-grain breads and cereals. In addition to water, give your child fruit and vegetable juices (such as prune juice), and warm liquids like tea.
A change in food preferences might seem like an insignificant problem, but if it causes your child to lose interest in eating, it won’t be. You’ll need to manage this for as long as it lasts, which can be weeks or even years:
Kids with cancer are at high risk for infection, so it’s very important to know how to handle and prepare food safely. This means washing your hands well before handling food or after touching things like raw meat and poultry.
It also means things like keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Prepared food should never be allowed to sit at room temperature for more than an hour, and leftovers should be eaten within a few days.
Raw fruits and veggies should always be washed well before they’re eaten. This includes melons or any other thick-skinned fruit you might cut with a knife. Cooked foods should be cooked well before they’re served.
When kids have trouble eating enough, it can be easy to give in and let them eat anything, healthy or not, just so they’re getting some calories. But it’s important to encourage healthy eating habits.
Eating nutritious foods will help make your child less likely to binge on sweets or fried foods. And remember, some day the treatment will end, and your child’s appetite will go back to normal. When it does, the good eating habits built now will help your child choose healthy options.
It can be tricky to keep your child focused on nutrition during treatment, but it’s important to try. Kids who eat well and stay hydrated are better able to tolerate and stay on schedule for treatments, steer clear of infections, keep a healthy weight, and stay strong enough to enjoy favorite activities — all of which increase their chances for the best possible outcome.
If you’ve just finished a long hospital stay, you may have questions about reconnecting with friends and family. Get answers in this article for teens.
Visit our Cancer Center for teens to get information and advice on treating and coping with cancer.
Cancer is a serious illness that needs special treatment. Find out more about how kids can cope with cancer.
From treatments and prevention to coping with the emotional aspects of cancer, the Cancer Center provides comprehensive information that parents need.
It’s normal for kids to have hair loss, skin changes, or weight gain during treatment. This article offers tips for helping kids feel better about their appearance.
Long-term side effects, or late effects, happen to many cancer survivors. With early diagnosis and proper follow-up care, most late effects can be treated or cured.
Side effects of cancer treatment can include flu-like symptoms, hair loss, and blood clotting problems. After treatment ends, most side effects go away.
Unlike the steroids that body builders use, steroids used in cancer treatment are safe and help kids feel better.
If your doctor prescribed steroids as part of your treatment for an illness, don’t worry. It’s not the illegal, doping scandal kind of steroid. Get the details in this article for teens.
Chemotherapy is a big word for treatment with medicines used to help people who have cancer. This medicine kills the cancer cells that are making the person sick.
Certain cancers, or cancer treatment, can weaken the immune system, requiring a child to stay home to avoid exposure to germs. Here are ways to help your child make the best of it.
Taking care of a chronically ill child is one of the most draining and difficult tasks a parent can face. But support groups, social workers, and family friends often can help.
Get the basics on cancer and cancer treatments in this article.
Many families with a child in remission feel empowered to make lifestyle changes that could benefit their child’s health in the future. Here are some tips.
Chemotherapy (chemo) is treatment with medicines that stop the growth of cancer cells. Find out how chemo works and what to expect when getting treatment.
When chemotherapy and other treatments attack cancer cells, they can affect some of the body’s healthy cells too. As a teen, you’ll want to know what this can mean to your fertility.
More than half of all people with cancer are treated with radiation therapy. Get the facts on radiation therapy, including what it is, what to expect, and how to cope with side effects.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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