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Nutrition Counseling During Cancer Treatment

Nutrition counseling has a tremendous value in helping patients and caregivers develop and manage a healthy nutrition plan. Nutrition counseling before, during, and after cancer treatment can improve treatment outcomes.

What does that mean? Cancer patients who get the nutrition support they need are more likely to stay at work longer, have the energy to spend time with their family and friends, have fewer side effects, and stay strong enough for treatment.


How to select the right nutrition expert

The title “nutritionist” is not a regulated or licensed professional title. That’s right, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. It is important to only seek nutrition advice and participate in counseling from a Registered Dietitian (RD).

An RD has had specific training in food and nutrition and has passed a national exam. He or she is also trained to provide Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT), an evidenced-based nutritional treatment for your specific disease.

It’s also important to select an RD who specializes in oncology nutrition. You can look for the title “Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition” or “CSO” after his or her name. This signifies that the RD has had additional experience and training in oncology; a minimum of 2,000 hours are required in addition to passing a national exam with recertification every 5 years.

If you aren’t careful about choosing a dietitian with proper training and experience, you risk getting potentially harmful recommendations.


Talking to your dietitian

A typical nutrition consultation will involve several aspects. First, the RD will review your medical records for pertinent nutrition-related issues. He or she will then interview you and ask you questions related to your diet history, medical history, medications, allergies, and nutrition-related symptoms He or she will need to know your height, weight, and other things that impact your ability to eat and absorb nutrients.

After taking into account all of this subjective and objective information, the RD will design a meal plan and nutrition recommendations specific to your individual nutritional needs. He or she will then ask you to follow-up in a reasonable amount of time in order to achieve the goals that have been set for you. You may be asked to keep a diary of your symptoms or of the foods that you eat in order to help the RD assess how you are meeting your goals.

Ready to talk to an oncology nutrition professional? Schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian today.


Key points to remember

  • Always seek information from a Registered Dietitian (RD), preferably one who specializes in oncology nutrition (CSO).
  • Be sure to inform and coordinate with your medical team to implement the recommendations that your RD has provided to you.
  • Follow-up with your RD in a timely fashion to ensure that you are able to meet your nutrition goals
  • Keep a food diary of your symptoms or the foods that you eat in a typical day; this will help your RD provide recommendations that are individualized to your nutritional needs.
Jessica Iannotta, MS, RD, CSO, CDN

Jessica is a registered dietitian and certified specialist in oncology nutrition (CSO). She studied nutrition at Cornell University and completed her dietetic internship at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. She obtained her Master's degree through the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Jessica has worked in inpatient and outpatient oncology settings since 2001 in the North Shore-LIJ Health System. Jessica is in charge of all operations including clinical and culinary operations ranging from menu development to evidence-based website content, relationships with registered dietitians and social workers and developing processes and protocols for intake, management and outcomes analysis of patients.

  1. generally speaking, segrury and radiation is the protocol sometimes with chemo added on top of those things. Research just hasn’t gotten beyond that yet, unfortunately. However, depending on the hospital you’re treated at, there may be clinical trials available. For information on clinical trials, visit clinicaltrials.gov

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