How dietetics interact with oncology

A common symptom of having cancer is losing your appetite. Also, while you're having treatment, you might sometimes find it a bit uncomfortable to eat certain foods you would normally enjoy and your tastes may change.

As a result, you are likely to lose weight. If you lose too much, you won't be as strong as you need to be to get better.

If this happens, members of the dietetics team – who work with children throughout the hospital – will be able to help you try to put weight back on. To do this they might:

  • Give advice. If you've lost just a little weight and you are still eating a reasonable amount, you might only need some advice about changing what you eat – for example, choosing high-energy foods; snacking between meals or drinking full-fat milk instead of semi-skimmed. It might even mean you can eat more cakes and crisps! The dietitian will chat to you about your likes and dislikes so that you can come up with an eating plan together.
  • Give nutritional supplements. If you've lost quite a lot of weight or are finding it hard to put weight on, the dietitians can give you special drinks – similar to milk shakes or fruity drinks in lots of different flavours – with loads of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals in them that will provide calories and help to make you stronger. These are especially good if you don't feel like eating but you still like drinking. You will have these as well as the portions of food you can manage.
  • Give you nutrition while you're asleep. This sounds odd, but if you are really struggling to eat and your weight has gone down a lot, you can have a tube that goes into your tummy and be given feed through it while you're asleep. It won't hurt at all and you'll get the nutrition you need to build up your strength and put on weight. It's also done at night time so that you can still eat, if you want, during the daytime when you're awake. But if you're finding it impossible to eat during the day, we can feed you this way then too.

Sara Janes, Senior Specialist Paediatric Renal Dietitian, says all children on the cancer ward can ask to see a dietitian if they are worried about their eating or their weight loss.

"There are no rules about what a child should or shouldn't eat," she says. "We work with every child individually to see how we can increase their nutritional intake. It depends on each child's situation and each child's likes and dislikes."

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