DENVER, Colo--Although oncologists have long been concerned about cachexia and other nutritional problems in cancer patients, nutritional oncology, which includes nutritional assessment and intervention for cancer patients, is just beginning to emerge as a recognized medical discipline and as an important adjunct to standard cancer therapy.
'Rounds out the Armamentarium'
"It rounds out the armamentarium of the oncologist, with medical, radiation, and surgical oncology," said Faith D. Ottery, MD, PhD, at the Second Denver Conference on Nutrition and Cancer. "Quality care, whether curative or palliative, demands such an integrated approach," she said.
Nutritional oncology includes not only an understanding of the basic dietary needs of cancer patients, but also of the role of nutrients in the pathogenesis of cancer and the role of diet in the prevention and treatment of disease.
Unfortunately, the integration of nutritional thera-py into oncologic therapies has been hampered by misunderstandings in the oncology community, said Dr. Ottery, who at the time of the talk was director, Nutrition Support and Nutritional Oncology Research, Department of Surgical Oncology, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia.
She said that physicians frequently assume that weight loss is inevitable and unpreventable in cancer patients. They may view nutritional support as, at best, an alternative therapy and, at worst, as an ineffective intervention that can even interfere with other therapies. They may also assume that nutritional support adds cost and effort for little return.
Dr. Ottery noted that this kind of thinking, along with a lack of integrated clinical nutritional education in medical schools, has led to a certain inertia by the medical community in adopting nutritional strategies.