Nutrition, Exercise, and Other Lifestyle Changes During Ovarian Cancer Treatment

Even without ovarian cancer, it can be challenging to eat right and get enough exercise. However, it’s extremely important to take good care of your body during cancer treatment. Staying as active as possible -- even if it requires some modification on your part -- can make a huge difference in your outlook and energy level. Good nutrition and certain other lifestyle changes are also important.

 

Making Healthy Choices During Ovarian Cancer Treatment

Women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer often wonder if there are lifestyle changes they can make to aid in their treatment. They may seek advice about food choices, exercising, and dietary supplements they can take to help improve their quality of life and long-term survival.
 
Even if you had a healthy lifestyle prior to your diagnosis, keeping up good nutrition and physical exercise can be challenging during cancer treatment. Side effects of medications, such as nausea and fatigue, can make it difficult to exercise or maintain adequate nutrition. Fortunately, focusing on some simple lifestyle changes during your treatment can help you overcome some of these obstacles.
 

Why Is Nutrition Important During Treatment?

Eating the right kinds of foods is an important part of cancer treatment, as it can help you feel better and keep up your strength. When you are going through ovarian cancer treatment, you may need to change your diet to help make you stronger and withstand some of the side effects of your treatment. This can mean eating foods that may not normally be recommended when you are in good health.
 
Because cancer treatment comes along with a variety of side effects, it may be difficult for you to have an appetite due to nausea. If this is the case, eating high-fat, high-calorie foods can help to keep your weight up. If you are developing sores in your mouth and it is difficult to swallow food, you may need to drink milkshakes that are cool but are high in calories and nutrients.
 
Although the treatment plan will vary based on each woman's particular situation, it will likely include surgery and some sort of chemotherapy and/or radiation. These treatments are geared toward killing cancer cells. However, this usually means that healthy cells are destroyed as well in the process. This damage can cause side effects, such as loss of appetite, vomiting, and fatigue.
 
Nutrition during your cancer treatment may take on a whole new form, as cancer treatment can affect the way your body tolerates food and uses nutrients. This will vary for each person. You may need to seek help from a registered dietitian to help determine the best ways to meet your nutritional needs. In general, however, you will need a variety of foods in order to meet your nutritional needs, with a focus on protein, carbohydrates, fat, water, minerals, and vitamins.
 
Protein
When your body doesn't get sufficient protein, it starts to break down muscle for the fuel it needs. This can lead to a reduced resistance to infections and a longer recovery time from illnesses. During cancer treatment, you will need more protein than you may normally eat to help heal tissues and fight infections. Fish, lean red meat, and eggs are some good sources of protein.
 
The American Cancer Society (ACS) has issued some guidelines for consuming meats. Studies have shown that eating large amounts of red meat and processed meats (hot dogs, deli meats, bacon) can increase the risk of certain types of cancers. Research has also shown that grilling, frying, or broiling meats at very high temperatures creates chemicals that might increase the risk of some types of cancer. Therefore, the ACS recommends that you limit your intake of processed and red meats and avoid cooking these at high temperatures.
 
Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are a major source of energy for the body. They fuel the body and provide proper organ function. Some of the best sources of carbohydrates include vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
 
Fiber is also important. It contains various plant carbohydrates that are not digested by humans. Fibers come in two forms: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber (such as oat bran) has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels. Fiber can also improve bowel function.
 
In general, it is often recommended that you eat good sources of fiber, such as beans, whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, during cancer treatment. These can also reduce your risk of heart disease.
 
Some studies have shown that a high intake of vegetables may have a beneficial effect on recurrence or survival for ovarian cancer. However, more research is needed. It is usually recommended for those undergoing cancer treatment and for cancer survivors to eat at least 2 to 3 cups of vegetables and 1½ to 2 cups of fruit each day. This should include a variety of fruits and vegetables, as they contain various minerals and nutrients.
 
In general, fresh fruits and vegetables are believed to have the most nutritional value. Canned fruits and vegetables may have lost some nutrients due to the high temperatures used in the canning process. Some canned products may also contain heavy syrup and high sodium levels.
 
In some cases, cooking vegetables and fruits can help your body absorb certain nutrients (such as carotenoids) more effectively. Steaming and microwaving are the best ways to preserve the nutrients; boiling, especially for long periods of time, can remove many water-soluble vitamins.
 
Fat
Fat is also a rich source of energy for the body and plays an important role in nutrition. Fat is used by the body to insulate body tissues, transport vitamins through the blood, and store energy. Because some fats are better for you than others, try to choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats more often than saturated fats or trans fats.
 
Some studies have been done on whether different types of fat might affect cancer risk and survival. However, this research has produced mixed results. Some evidence has shown that certain types of fat, including saturated fats, may increase the risk of cancer. In fact, one study showed that a low-fat diet may lower the chance of cancer coming back in women who had cancers that were estrogen-receptor negative.
 
In general, those who are going through (or have gone through) cancer treatment should try to minimize trans fats, such as margarine, baked goods, and snack foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils, as they have harmful effects on the heart.
 
Water
Every cell in your body needs water to function properly. Without it, you will become dehydrated, which can lead to serious imbalances in important minerals your body needs. You will need at least eight 8-ounce glasses of liquid each day; however, if you are experiencing vomiting or diarrhea, you may need to drink more.
 
Minerals and Vitamins
If you eat a balanced diet with sufficient calories, you probably get plenty of vitamins and minerals. However, eating a balanced diet during cancer treatment can be difficult. You may need to take some supplements. It is important to discuss this with your healthcare provider before taking anything, however, as some vitamins and minerals can actually make chemotherapy and radiation less effective.
 
Some research has shown that flaxseed may slow down cancer cell growth and make certain types of cancer treatment more effective. Although flaxseed is a good source of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids, more research is needed to determine the effects of flaxseed on cancer treatment outcomes.
 
What About Antioxidants, Phytonutrients, and Herbs?
While eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is important during cancer treatment to help get those vital antioxidants (like vitamins A, C, and E; selenium; and zinc), it is not usually recommended to take large doses of these supplements during chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Antioxidants attach to free radicals in the body, which prevents the free radicals from attacking cells, including normal cells and cancer cells. This may interfere with some cancer treatments. In fact, it is thought that antioxidants might repair the damage to cancer cells, counteracting the effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
 
Until more research has been done, it is usually recommended for people going through cancer treatment to avoid dietary supplements, except to treat a diagnosed deficiency of a certain nutrient. It is also usually recommended to avoid supplements that give more than 100 percent of the daily value for antioxidants.
 
Phytonutrients or phytochemicals are believed to have health-protecting qualities. These substances are plant compounds found in fruits, vegetables, and some teas. Research has not shown that taking these compounds in pill form is any more beneficial than eating the foods that contain them.
 
You also have to be careful with the herbs you choose, as some of them may cause severe and harmful side effects. Some may even interfere with cancer treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider before taking any herbal supplements, extracts, or teas.
 
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