healthy food on table

5 takeaways: What should I eat after a colorectal cancer diagnosis?

healthy food on table

Terri Taylor, a Registered Dietitian and Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition from the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at HonorHealth Scottsdale, Arizona, provides five takeaways for nutrition after a colorectal cancer diagnosis.

  1. Nutrition is an integral part of your cancer treatment and long-term survivorship plan. Your food choices can help minimize treatment side effects, support your immune system, maintain your energy, and reduce your risk of recurrence and other medical conditions.  This, in turn, helps improve your quality of life.  Be a proactive participant in your care.
  2. You can modify your diet to manage bowel irregularities and still eat fruits and vegetables. Chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and colorectal surgeries all have the potential to cause bowel irregularities.  The type of fiber that you eat can help manage bowel issues.  Soluble fiber from oats, bananas, applesauce, and peaches binds the fluid in the bowel to minimize diarrhea.  Taking a fiber supplement such as psyllium husk mixed in water after a meal may relieve bowel urgency. Other dietary modifications to reduce diarrhea include limiting lactose, eating cooked, not raw vegetables, avoiding nuts, seeds, wheat bran, and fresh fruit with peelings, taking a probiotic, and eating rice congee daily. Insoluble fiber from wheat bran, berries, fresh fruit with peelings, raw vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains stimulates the bowel to relieve constipation.  Drinking adequate fluids is important for both diarrhea and constipation.
  3. Eat less red and processed meats.  Eating red and processed meats consistently and routinely before and after a colorectal cancer diagnosis has been linked to a higher risk of colorectal cancer-associated mortality and recurrence.  The American Institute of Cancer Research recommends a maximum of eighteen ounces of cooked red meat, which includes beef, veal, lamb, and pork, per week.  They also recommend avoiding all kinds of processed, cured, and smoked meats. Grilling any animal meat poses a cancer risk.  Marinate or put a dry rub of herbs on the meat to minimize this risk or cook slower at a lower temperature.
  4. Increase your intake of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids. Replacing red meat with fish high in omega-3 fat is a good choice after a colorectal cancer diagnosis.  Salmon, arctic char, black cod, sardines, trout, and low mercury tuna are all high sources of omega-3 fat. Research associates a higher intake of marine omega-3 fat after a colorectal cancer diagnosis with a lower risk of colorectal cancer-specific mortality.
  5. Maintain a healthy body weight to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer recurrence and to lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other cancers. The prevalence of obesity in colorectal cancer survivors is higher than in those without cancer.  Obesity is a risk factor for other cancers, diabetes, and heart disease.  Colorectal cancer survivors are at higher risk for diabetes for up to five years after diagnosis.  Eating healthy foods in appropriate portions and being more physically active is important in weight management and survivorship.  Consult an oncology-certified registered dietitian to develop a weight management survivorship plan that fits your lifestyle.

If you are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. We’re here to help. 


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