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Cancer survivors want clear diet advice from their doctors and nurses

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by Cancer Research UK | News

22 August 2016

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People who survive cancer want clear advice from doctors and nurses about what they should eat, according to a Cancer Research UK-funded study published in the European Journal of Cancer Care.

“The next step in this research will need to explore how we can support doctors and nurses to provide this information for their patients.” – Dr Rebecca Beeken

In a study of 19 cancer survivors who were no longer receiving treatment, scientists found that patients do know eating a balanced diet is important but they would like more advice from health workers on how to go about it.

Most patients in the study said they did not receive advice from their healthcare professionals about their diet and were keen to find out more. They said they received information about a healthy diet from charities, online and from the news but were confused about what makes up a balanced diet.

People on the study felt a healthy balanced diet was more important than eating specific foods but they did recognise foods like nuts, tomatoes and green vegetables as healthy and sugar, white flour and processed food as unhealthy. Most people said they tried to make healthy eating changes after they were diagnosed with their disease.

Although cancer was often a trigger for making a big lifestyle change, many said they ate healthily because it was good for overall health rather than eating healthily to prevent cancer returning.

Lead author Dr Rebecca Beeken, Cancer Research UK scientist at University College London, said: “There’s a lot of information online about what foods are healthy but advice can be conflicting. This study shows that patients would like diet advice from the people treating them and we think patients would benefit from clear advice from the people caring for them.

“The next step in this research will need to explore how we can support doctors and nurses to provide this information for their patients.”

Martin Ledwick, head information nurse at Cancer Research UK, said: “There’s a lot of misleading information on the internet about what is and isn’t a healthy diet in relation to cancer. This study shows that there’s a potential “teachable moment” after cancer treatment when patients are receptive to getting good information about healthy eating. Getting information at this point will guide them away from seeking out unproven approaches to diet and nutrition.”

Freephone Cancer Research UK’s cancer information nurses for information and advice Monday to Friday on 0808 800 40 40.

Beeken et al., ‘What about diet?’ A qualitative study of cancer survivors views on diet and cancer and their sources of information. The European Journal of Cancer Care, 2016.