The Critical Importance of Good Nutrition for Children Fighting Childhood Cancer
Establishing good eating habits and enticing children to eat nutritious, healthy foods is an issue with which all parents with young children struggle. For parents of kids with cancer, however, the challenges are even greater, requiring untold levels of patience and creativity to overcome. Why is good nutrition so important, yet so challenging, for kids with cancer? The fact is that many forms of childhood cancer, as well as today’s cancer treatments involving chemotherapy and radiation therapy, negatively impact your child’s appetite, ability to eat, and ability to process and store nutrients appropriately, making a healthy diet even more difficult to maintain at a time when your child’s body needs the energy and nutrients from a healthy diet more than ever.
If your child is undergoing treatment for childhood cancer and is struggling to maintain a nutritious diet, or is losing or gaining significant amounts of weight, we encourage you to speak to your child’s oncology team immediately. They can offer important information about your child’s dietary needs, and may recommend working with a registered dietitian who can offer more tailored guidance on the best foods for your child, given his or her unique medical circumstances. It is also important to share your experiences with other parents going through, or who have gone through, a similar experience, as they may be able to offer helpful hints around making eating easier and more enjoyable for your child during this difficult time.
Why is eating right so important for kids with cancer?
All children require more calories per pound than adults to ensure proper and healthy growth and development. The bodies of kids with cancer bear an additional burden, however: they may require even more calories to provide their small bodies with critical energy to fight the cancer and heal damaged tissues. Helping your child take in sufficient calories, along with much-needed vitamins and minerals, will help your child’s body stay strong, make your child feel better, and ultimately give your child’s body the tools it needs to win the fight against cancer. Specific benefits of a healthy diet include:
- Greater tolerance for treatment and its negative side effects
- Improves healing and recovery times after treatments
- Boosts immune system to decrease the risk of infections during treatment
- Helps maintain a healthy weight
- Encourages and boosts your child’s ability to keep up with normal growth and development
- Gives your child more strength and energy
- Helps your child feel better overall
Why is eating so difficult for kids with cancer?
Unfortunately, cancer itself, as well as many treatment protocols, can make eating a challenging task for many children. Both cancer and its treatment often undermine a child’s appetite, alter his or her tolerance for certain foods, and even change the way he or she processes nutrients. Cancer treatments involving chemotherapy and radiation often bring unwelcome side effects impacting both food choices and the ability to eat, including: pain, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, mouth and throat pain, mouth sores, dry mouth, and thick saliva, just to name a few. Helping your child overcome these difficulties in order to eat—and eat well—requires flexibility, patience, and creativity!
What can I do to help my child eat better during cancer treatment?
There is no right answer to this question, because every child is unique, with unique medical requirements, different sensitivities and cravings, and fundamentally, still a child with particular likes and dislikes, just like every other child! There is no right solution to this difficult problem, and many families find they need to try multiple approaches, multiple times over the course of their child’s treatment.
- Understand the critical elements of a healthy diet and your child’s unique dietary needs.
- Be flexible, and don’t feel limited by “traditional” eating habits.
- Remember that your child may require foods that are not traditionally considered “healthy”.
- Don’t be afraid to try new foods, and new tactics.
- Making eating fun whenever possible.
- Keep your child hydrated.
- Don’t make eating into a battle.
The American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) is a non-profit charity dedicated to helping kids with cancer and their families navigate the difficult journey from cancer diagnosis through survivorship and bereavement. At the national level, the ACCO promotes the critical importance of ensuring continued funding into new and better treatment protocols for childhood cancer. At the grassroots level, the ACCO is focused on the children: developing and providing educational tools for families and learning resources for children in order to make the lives of children and their families a bit easier and perhaps even brighter during this difficult time. Many of our resources are available free of charge for families coping with childhood cancer.
For additional information on our resources or information on how to obtain our resources free of charge, please visit our website at www.acco.org.
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