Managing 4 Side Effects of Childhood Cancer Treatment
While children are undergoing cancer treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation, a referral to a registered dietitian (RDN) is important to maximize growth, development, and well-being. Throughout treatment, your child may experience several side effects that impact their nutrition status; and early intervention or counseling from a RDN is an effective tool to support tolerance of current and future treatments and improve nutritional outcomes. The following include nutrition tips and strategies to help you and your child combat unwanted side effects that may result from treatment, certain medications, or an underlying condition.
While common and related to the following symptoms, it is important to provide your child with adequate nutrition throughout treatment. To encourage your child to eat a meal or snack, try to create an enjoyable environment, such as including your child in preparation or selection, offering fun shaped food items, eating with your child, and avoiding distractions. such as PediaSure© or Boost© Kids Essentials or homemade smoothies can be useful if your child is unable to tolerate solid foods to help provide the necessary calories until your child is able to eat adequately.
Nausea and Vomiting
Your child’s doctor may prescribe anti-nausea medication to combat the above symptoms, however several dietary recommendations can be implemented to alleviate nausea and vomiting. During this period, refrain from offering your child their favorite foods. He or she could associate their favorite food with nausea and vomiting and as a result, cause a permanent dislike or oral aversion. Providing small, frequent meals can prevent your child from feeling full or bloated to the point of sickness. When creating their meals or snacks, opt for cold or room temperature foods, free from overwhelming smells, such as a cold sandwich, desserts like ice cream or popsicles, and fruits which may be more agreeable.
When including your child in meal or snack preparation or selection, encourage them to try a new herb, spice, or flavor to enhance the taste of their food and beverages. These can help disguise metallic, bitter, or bland foods and prevent unfamiliar or unwanted tastes. Tart foods such as oranges or lemonade or hard candies with a sour or mint flavor can help produce more saliva and awaken the taste buds prior to meals or snacks. When serving your child’s food, try to use plastic utensils instead of silverware as this may decrease the metallic taste of foods.
High fiber and greasy, fried foods are difficult to digest and can cause further stomach upset when experiencing diarrhea. To make your child comfortable, try adding soluble fiber to your child’s diet such as potatoes or bananas. Limiting the number of sweetened beverages and fruit juice your child consumes can help to prevent diarrhea from poorly absorbed sugars and to ensure they stay hydrated. Offer 1 cup of water for each diarrheal stool. If he or she is having a challenging time tolerating dairy products, a low lactose diet may be beneficial.
It is important to remember that every child’s treatment and experience is different. Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are available to help you and your child find the most appropriate and enjoyable while undergoing treatment for cancer.
About the Author
Taylor has been a Registered Dietitian for 4 years and has expertise in the nutritional management of adults and pediatrics, including critical care. She is currently employed as one of the inpatient pediatric dietitians at Banner University Medical Center Tucson and enjoys working with the hematology/oncology population. She counsels family and patients on the above symptoms and finds working with cancer patients very rewarding. In the future, she plans to specialize in Oncology Nutrition. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and reading.