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Food Counseling For Head & Neck Cancers: August 16, 2013

Rather than help people cut calories- dietitian Valerie Butram advises many of her clients in ways to add them. Butram works with cancer patients at the Regional Cancer Center.

“They have to preserve their lean tissue mass. We have to keep a reserve on them so they’re able to keep their hematology counts where they need to be and keep their immune function where it needs to be to get them through that treatment plan,” says Butram, oncology dietitian with Lee Memorial Health System.

Side effects from chemo and radiation may include: nausea, vomiting, bowel issues, swallowing issues and taste alterations, these can add up to weight loss.

“As they’re going through treatment, there are many symptoms that these patients experience that a nutritional consult could get them through,” says Butram.

Anyone going through cancer treatment could benefit from this support but for those battling head and neck cancers, it’s really a necessity. Between radiation and surgery many patients can’t eat a thing.

“Eighty-five percent of those patients are going to develop dysphasia or difficulty swallowing to varying degrees.  Two-thirds of them will have difficulty swallowing just because of tumor location,” says Stacey Brill, speech therapist with Lee Memorial Health System.

And patients generally have surgery to remove cancer anywhere in the oral cavity, neck or throat. For the duration of treatment or longer, they may rely on a feeding tube. That’s where Butram comes in.

“Along with what the speech therapist is telling me is safe based on their testing what’s possibly been done through surgery, that's how I make my recommendation. So again it’s an individualized nutritional preventative approach for those patients,” says Butram.

Keeping well nourished gives patients the strength to fight.

“If we can maintain you eating and drinking throughout the course of your treatment your whole life is going to be better,” says Brill.