As a surgeon, I always emphasize the importance of excellent nutrition to my patients, especially those with cancer.I compare a patient’s experience to one of a world-class athlete. Both face tremendous pressure on the mind and body. However, the patient is playing for much more than a medal or a trophy. Their life is on the line, and they must adequately prepare.When you take great care of your body, it will take great care of you, particularly under stressful conditions.
Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation certainly qualify as being stressful. Frankly, the treatment may seem as debilitating as the disease, itself. Nutritional stability is the foundation required to help yourself obtain a good outcome.This is especially true concerning protein. Protein plays a key role in maintaining all body functions, as it makes up critical cell structures in muscle, organs, blood cells, connective tissue, and skin. Protein is a vital component in many of the body’s functions, such as: enzymatic reactions, hormonal structure, and keeps the immune system functional. It is the loss of protein which produces the complications of malnutrition. You simply cannot heal without adequate protein intake, and this is even truer with a surgical wound.
One breast cancer patient’s story drives home this point. After a post-operative mastectomy follow-up, she was cleared to receive chemotherapy and radiation next. She, more than most, could simply not eat, and as a result, she became a “skeletonized” version of herself, despite all appropriate interventions. I barely recognized her. By not eating enough protein, she had no ability to fight infections. She developed pneumonia and lost her battle. Here, all treatment protocols were followed to the letter, but the cause of death was secondary to protein malnutrition. What a terrible thing to witness. Even though everything was done perfectly, we still lost the patient. The medical and surgical literature lists a wide range of percentages, 20%-90%, concerning cancer patient deaths related to protein malnutrition. No one may know the actual figure, but it is unacceptably high.This problem can be fixed: We must do better.
I know it is work to eat the daily recommendation of protein, but if you are a cancer patient, you must find a way. To find how many grams of protein you need per day, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to obtain your weight in kilograms. It is recommended healthy adults need to eat 0.8 grams of protein, per kilogram of body weight, per day, (g/kg/d). One kilogram equals 2.2 pounds.For example, if a person weighs 200 pounds, then divide this number by 2.2, which rounds out to 90 kilograms. Multiply the number of kilograms by 0.8. 90 x 0.8 equals 72 grams of protein. This is the amount of protein recommended per day for a healthy person weighing 200 pounds.
However, as a patient, this requirement is higher. Patients’ recommendations are 1-1.5 g/kg/d. When calculating how much protein you need if you are a patient, substitute 0.8 grams with 1-1.5 grams. In a 200 pound patient, the minimum requirement would then increase to 90 grams of protein per day. I recommend increasing protein intake to meet these requirements on the day of diagnosis.
Please remember the best possible outcome begins and ends with meeting this recommended intake of protein. Equate lean, quality protein as fuel for your body.
Join the discussion 5 Comments
Excellent information! I am cooking meals for my sister who has cancer. Her Doctor told her she needs more protein in her diet and never told her how much. I figured it out here on your site, and I am creating what she needs. She had 1 chemo treatment, and it put her in the hospital for a month. Now, She is in transitional care at a nursing home, getting one OT visit 5 days a week, maybe 6. It’s not enough. Her doctor has not been very present to her. The Doctor on site is ok, but they haven’t overseen her diet at all. Plus, they are understaffed.
Her legs are swollen, so we are watching her sodium intake. I have bought many high protein plant based shakes for her,20 G protein each. Now I’ve cooked her lentils, and will combine those with either quinoa or meat. I told her to have a shake with her meal, and snack on a high protein bar in between meals that will be easily accessible to her. She can’t walk with out assistance, she is two person lift…its really hard! So, I’m adding up the protein for her, she should be eating 88-130 g per day. So, I’m concentrating on serving her salmon, tuna, chicken paired with lentils, quinoa, beans…
It’s sad we have to get her well ourselves. It’s a horrible problem in our country.
Thank you for all your organization does! I will be leaning on you!
I am very confused- I have pancreatic cancer x 5 years. I love to exercise to stay strong to fight cancer and treatment. I have always been told to have higher protein intake for muscle and strength. Recent ti have seen more info suggesting protein is bad for. Cancer due to the increase in IGF1 hormone production. What should we be eating? I really want to win.
Our dietitians can help you with your questions. To schedule a consultation with a registered dietitian, use the online scheduler or call 877-467-1936. Thank you!
Thank you for this info. I will be starting chemo and radiation therapy soon and also was only told that I need to keep up my protein but not any certain amount and this was extremely helpful. I had increased my protein to what I thought was a high amount but now I know it is not nearly enough.
We are glad to hear this resource was helpful! If you are interested, you can also speak to our dietitians. To schedule a consultation with a registered dietitian, use the online scheduler or call 877-467-1936. Thank you!