Home News Local news Cancer Expert Says Diet Plays Key Role in Recovery

Cancer Expert Says Diet Plays Key Role in Recovery


Jan. 28, 2006- There is more than one way to battle cancer, and nutrition is a very powerful force, said oncological nutrition expert Kim Dalzell Friday morning addressing a roomful of cancer specialists, social workers, and nurses and doctors at Schneider Regional Medical Center.
Dalzell, a licensed dietician and clinical oncologist, is director of Cancer Treatment Centers of America holistic nutrition services. She is the author of "Challenge Cancer and Win!" The 460-page volume is easy to read, including examples and illustrations. After a broad look at nutrition and cancer, the book provides action plans for addressing specific cancers that require different nutritional treatments, such as breast, colorectal or lung cancer.
Dalzell stressed Friday that the key to treating cancer successfully is an integrated approach, balanced between traditional radiation, surgical and oncological care combined with complementary and alternative nutritional therapy.
The presentation is the first in a series of seminars SRMC will produce on aspects of cancer care, said Rodney Miller Sr., SRMC president and CEO.
Dalzell described how in her 11 years of practicing clinical oncology, she has become aware of the critical role played by proper nutrients in treating the disease. Though patients want anything they think will help them, she said the scientific community has only recently and "reluctantly " acknowledged that nutrients in food can affect cancer.
She said, "Patients are quite torn when diet changes are recommended. It's difficult to talk to a patient about cancer when their doctor suggests nutrients don't play a role in the healing process."
She said communication is an important component between patients and their health care providers. She mentioned a case where a patient complained of a rash, and the doctor determined it must be a side effect of chemotherapy, and suspended treatments until the rash went away. In fact, the rash was caused by an allergy to mushrooms.
Patients, she said, will seek answers from a number of sources, if they don't feel they have sufficient information from their physicians. She said there are dangers in this. "First," she said, "beware of Dr. Internet. A cancer and nutrition request on the Google search engine turned up more than 35 million entries."
She said early on she found that when she tried to tell physicians that their patients were seeking information elsewhere, many didn't want to hear about it.
Citing one study, Dalzell said 50 percent of patients obtained information from friends or family; 43 percent from health food store employees; 31 percent from magazines and newspapers. She said that 57 percent of patients tested wanted nutritional guidance at the time of their diagnosis, yet few reported having received recommendations from their doctors. Dalzell's statistics are from researchers in nutrition and oncology, population studies and clinical trials.
Dr. Shirnett K. Williamson, Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute head oncologist, questioned Dalzell about the use of antioxidants, which she said she does not recommend for her patients.
Dalzell said it is a big issue with doctors and nutritionists. "There are two camps," Dalzell said. "They can benefit the patient by preventing collateral damage [to cells] and reduce toxicity, nutritionists say. But physicians say isolated nutrients are not the answer."
Antioxidants are substances that occur naturally in many fruits and vegetables, as well as in nuts, grains and even some meat, poultry and fish. Animal and cell culture studies have suggested that antioxidants may slow or even prevent the development of cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). However, studies on individual types of cancer have had mixed results.
Medical experts don't really know yet whether antioxidant supplements are helpful or harmful for cancer prevention and treatment. The American Cancer Society web site says "the jury is still out" on the issue.
Dalzell is a forceful speaker, with the courage of her convictions. The role of nutritionists, she said, include screening patients for malnutrition, providing natural therapy suggestion for treatment-specific side effects, educating patients on drug-nutrient interactions, and providing individualized dietary counseling specific to diagnosis and other health issues.
She provided some sobering statistics to back up nutritional therapy. She said 40 percent of cancer patients die of malnutrition-related causes. Nutrition support reduces complication rates of surgery by 33 percent. She said 62 percent of Americans with cancer survive five or more years, but they are at risk for secondary cancers.
"The nontangibles in cancer treatment are so important," she says, "not only diet, but exercise, a positive attitude, stress and prayer. Everything is important."
She said many doctors tell their patients to follow a "good diet." "Well," she said, "that can be anything – some people might think that two Twinkies for lunch is a good diet." She then asked her audience for their ideas of what constitutes a "good diet."
After some laughter from those that seconded the "Twinkie" idea, hospital social worker Denise Torres Hodge related a story.
She said when she was about 18 years old, a close friend of her's the same age was diagnosed with vaginal cancer and given five to eight months to live. "She found an herbal regime from a nutritionist and a diet balanced with fruits and vegetables. She went from stage three cancer to stage one in three months. And," Hodge said, "she is alive today."
The presentation was held in a conference room at the hospital. Renee Adams, Kimelman Cancer Institute administrative director, said she hopes the next seminar can be held in the institute's 68-seat medical auditorium.
Charlene Kehoe, of Cancer Support V.I., presented Dalzell as part of the group's lecture series. Kehoe started the support group, which is sponsored by International Capital & Management Co., last year.
Kehoe said she is not a cancer survivor, herself, but her mother is living with cancer and her father died of the disease. She said, "After my father died, I decided I wanted to do something to help." The group's mission, she said, is to provide support, education and information to people living with cancer and their families, by sharing information, strength and hope.
CSVI has free lectures by health care professionals lined up for the next three months at the Jackson Wellness Center at Antilles School. For details contact Kehoe at 715-5806.
Dalzell is president of NutriQuest Inc., a professional speaking and book publishing company. Her book can be purchased through Amazon.com, or from NutriQuest by calling 1-888-913-9284. According to her website, a portion of the proceeds from book sales go to the nonprofit Cancer Treatment Research Foundation.
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