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Nutrition

Originally published on November 10, 2009
Most recently updated on April 10, 2013

Good nutrition is an important part of your child’s treatment. Try to deviate as little as possible from your child’s normal diet. Your child’s body needs to heal and gain strength in order to resume normal activities and undergo any treatments that may be planned.

Changes in or difficulties with nutrition can occur in children with tumors. After surgery, children may experience temporary nausea and vomiting simply from the procedure itself. Taking steroids can cause a dramatic increase in appetite. Children undergoing radiation therapy or chemotherapy often develop irregular eating patterns or nausea or complain that their foods taste metallic, too salty, or too sweet, or even have no taste. They may lose their appetite, have a feeling of fullness, or have diarrhea, cramps, constipation, or dry and/or sore throat or mouth. Cancer can place extra nutritional demands on the body and change how nutrients are used.

If any of these changes cause your child continuous appetite problems, call your child’s doctor or nurse. They may prescribe antinausea medications (Zofran, for example). At this point, the heath care professional may arrange an appointment with a dietitian, who will become a member of your child’s health care team. Nutritional supplements are occasionally recommended, but the best approach is usually a well-balanced diet worked out with an experienced dietitian to fit your child’s needs and tastes.

When your child isn’t eating well, you’re less likely to overreact if you understand that there will be “off” eating days. Appetite will probably improve over time, and an “on” day is an opportunity for you to increase the nutritional value of the foods you’re preparing. Food is closely tied to emotions, so try to avoid confrontations over meals.

Some alternative treatments include special strict diets for which healing claims are made. Remember that eating favorite foods may be the only way to provide nutrition and pleasure during this time. Children may especially need the calories and protein that are forbidden by alternative treatments. Be sure to check with your child’s doctor or nurse before giving your child vitamins, herbs, or alternative supplements or starting a new diet regimen. Certain compounds can interfere with cancer treatment and can cause harm.

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