Confused About Cancer Nutrition Advice

Cancer institution websites offer inconsistent and conflicting nutritional information

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Should a cancer patient lose weight, gain weight or maintain weight during treatment? What’s a healthy eating plan after treatment is over? This type of information isn’t easy to come by.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) facility websites offer inconsistent nutritional information for both cancer patients and survivors. That’s what a recent review has discovered.

Some websites have no dietary information and others refer visitors to outside resources.

And the advice offered by the various institutions is sometimes contradictory, according to researchers.

"Ask for a referral to a nutritionist during cancer treatment."

Colin Champ, MD, a resident in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, and colleagues reviewed the nutritional and dietary information provided on 21 NCCN facility websites.  

“Nutritional guidance for cancer patients is lacking, based on this review of website content administered by NCCN member institutions. The information that is provided is varied, often inconsistent, and lacks a foundation of rigorous evidence,” the authors wrote.

Why is nutritional information important? Because a cancer survivor’s diet and weight are known to have an impact on how long they live.

Studies have shown that breast cancer survivors often gain weight after treatment, as do prostate cancer survivors. Being overweight or obese can lead to poorer outcomes for both these groups.

And because roughly 60 percent of patients turn to the internet for answers, "We started looking at sources where people may go, to see what information they were digesting," Dr. Champ said in a press release.

Here’s what the review of NCCN facility websites uncovered:

  • Only four sites provided any type of nutritional guidelines
  • Of these sites, half recommended a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet and half suggested high-calorie diets during treatment to maintain weight.
  • Seven sites linked to outside sources.
  • Information on the various sites was contradictory.
  • Half of the sites suggested a low fat, high carbohydrate diet, while the other half recommended a one-to-one ratio of carbohydrate to fat.
  • Very little dietary information was provided for specific types of cancer.
  • Much of the information was focused on nutrition during treatment, not afterwards.

"These findings demonstrate an urgent need for consistent, evidence-based nutritional guidelines for patients, and potentially for additional research in this domain," Dr. Champ said.

"There is no data to support any particular type of diet as being the best diet to promote health and recovery in cancer patients," Carol Wolin-Riklin, MA, RD, LD, of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, told dailyRx News.

"Studies on the ideal nutritional support for cancer patients are indeed contradictory. Advances in knowledge regarding cancer treatment and cure are far ahead of knowledge and evidence-based data in the nutrition support arena for cancer patients," Wolin-Riklin said.

“Improved, patient-centered information sources should be developed for patients, with access to information about the relative merits of nutritional approaches not only during treatment, but also during survivorship,” the authors concluded.

The results of this review were published March 26 in Nutrition and Cancer.  The research was supported in part by the Kimmel Cancer Center’s National Cancer Institute (NCI) Cancer Center Support. No financial conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 26, 2013
Last Updated:
March 26, 2013