During my counseling of new patients, one of the often asked questions is related to food. The usual question is “What can I eat or cannot eat during RT treatment?” For patients that have completed treatment, the favourite question is “Are there any food I should avoid in my post recovery care?” Well, let me shed some light on the subject matter both from my own experience and from the collective experiences of the 300+ members of the NCCS NPC Support Group.
Food Intake During RT Treatment
The 33 shots of RT over 7 weeks that a new patient is required to undergo to clear the cancer tumor from the body is a very harsh treatment regime on the body. The cumulative RT causes a lot of side effects which also affect one’s appetite, resulting in weigh loss. It is usual to lose between 6 – 8kg by the end of the treatment and in very bad cases more than 15kg if one is unable to eat well and goes into tube feeding. You can find out more information on how to manage the 4 major side effects of RT in my other article posted to the website following this link:-
So in preparation for the RT treatment, I usually tell patients that they need to eat and eat well in order to weather the harsh side effects of the RT. But many patients and their spouse worry for the type of food they should avoid because they believe that food is the cause of the cancer. They usually hear from love one, family and friends what they can eat and what they should avoid, so much so that there is sometime contradiction on the same food type.
For example, the often heard food to avoid is chicken with some saying chicken can eat and others saying chicken should be avoided, leading to confusion in the minds of the patient and spouse. So I always ask the patient and spouse how the loved ones, family members and friends know what food can be eaten and what to avoid. The response is they hear it from someone else. And my next question is “how do they know the answer if they are not cancer survivors” I find it quite funny that these good meaning people are just passing around what they hear from others.
Here are the facts:-
During treatment, it is important that patients need to eat as much as possible in order to provide the body with nutrition to withstand the harsh side effects from RT.
- I understand that everyone may have their own food choices and beliefs. But it is important to
recognize that the body will need a balance meal comprising carbohydrate, protein (both animal and plant based) and minerals. It is not about focusing on a single food choice like chicken but more importantly to have a good meal. This is not the time to worry what they can or cannot eat. For most, it is the ability to be able to eat and eat well during the course of treatment.
Food for Post Recovery Care
When patients complete their treatment, they would often ask me what food to avoid and how should their diet consist of. Many believe that eating the right food would help them avoid a cancer relapse. Well personally I am not convinced that food is the cause of our nose cancer. If it was then everyone would at some time be contracting nose cancer. But I do accept that it is the personal belief and choice of an individual on how one wish to better manage his own diet and life. There have been much debate, information in the internet and sharing from fellow survivors on what food is good for recovery and what to avoid.
Honestly, no one has the right answer. But what I am convinced is that our body needs nutrition in order to recover and recover well from the harsh effects of the treatment. It is not easy to put back the lost weight. But it is imperative that we do our best to return the weigh because it is a sure sign of recovery. I lost about 8kg after my RT treatment in 2003. It took me a good few years before I started gaining weight. Despite eating well a few months after the treatment, I found that I could not put on weigh. Many survivors too share similar experiences. But once I started to put on weigh, my body mass and size returned so much so that my ENT doctor commended that I looked well. He explained that putting on weigh is a sure sign of recovery. Well I am glad to say that I am back to my pre-cancer day weigh of 82kg.
But this is what I usually hear of common type food to avoid from other fellow survivors in the 1st year:-
- Red meat like beef, mutton, lamb and duck
You can get this from the website if you type what food to avoid for cancer survivors. The claim purportedly came from an article from John Hopkins which has been circulating around for some time now. Is there any truth to this? Well it anybody’s guess as the Internet is full of such stories. So do use your discretion.
Other types of food to avoid which are usually associated with our own Chinese belief are:-
- Preserved food like salted vegetable etc
- BBQ or burnt food
But at the end of the day, please note that a complete diet is more important than what food to eat and what to avoid. Some say chicken can eat some say chicken cannot eat, so who is right. The answer is eating a balanced diet comprising carbohydrate, protein and minerals. Eating well is crucial to our recovery and as long as you are gaining weigh then you are recovering well. In my personal belief, food does not cause cancer. It may be one of the contributory factors but there are others like the EBV virus and our lifestyle. Most of us survivors believe stress is the trigger cause of our cancer. So it is more important to manage your stress rather than stress over your diet. Hope this helps.
Teo Thiam Chye (TC) NPC
Survivor since 2003
About the Author
Calling himself a Nose Cancer Ambassador, Thiam Chye (TC) aims to de-mystify nose cancer by encouraging all survivors to share their personal experiences in their fight against cancer to enable new patients to undergo their treatment with courage and minimal pain, and to lead a better quality of life on recovery. Should you wish to join the support group in its activities or need guidance on this article, please email him at
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