Why is nutrition important?

It is a known fact that up to 50% of cancer patients experience weight loss at the time of diagnosis.  Patients undergoing treatment for cancer are at an increased risk of becoming malnourished, either due to their condition or due to the side effects of treatment.  This “malnutrition” includes depletion of anti-oxidants, essential vitamins and minerals and protein stores (muscle mass).  Even a small amount of weight loss before and during treatment can worsen the outcome significantly.  Treatment with chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy and/or surgery affects the cancer cells, but it also affects other healthy cells in your body.  The treatment you receive affects your metabolism. Your body needs more nutrients than ever before due to extensive cell and immune damage, which your body needs to repair continuously.  Metabolic changes include:

  • A decreased uptake of glucose (energy) in the cells
  • An increase in fat breakdown
  • A decrease in protein production (building of muscle* tissue) and muscle degradation (breakdown of muscle tissue)
  • ineffective digestion and absorption of food and nutrients

*Remember that when we talk about muscle, we are not only referring to the muscles in your arms and legs but also to the muscle in your organs, muscles that keep your heart beating, muscles that help your lungs to breathe etc.

Maintaining your body weight and nutritional goals during treatment could:

  • Improve your tolerance of the treatment (you handle treatment better)
  • Improve the effectiveness of the treatment (your treatment works better)
  • Prevent or lessen complications of the treatment (less infection and hospital admissions)
  • Minimize muscle wasting (less muscle weakens the entire body including organ function)
  • Improve wound healing

The role of the Dietitian

The Dietitian is the nutritional expert on the team. Our intervention will depend on the stage and severity of your cancer, involvement of other organs and the gastrointestinal tract, your individual treatment plan and your tolerance to the treatment. It is important to note that nutrition therapy is part of the supportive care and cannot be offered as a treatment on its own.

The nutritional therapy process includes:

  • Weight monitoring:
  • Weight loss and weight gain are both associated with cancer treatment
  • Weight loss due to the metabolic changes and the effect of treatment
  • Weight gain due to adjuvant medications like hormone therapy and cortisone
  • Monitoring of blood results
  • Managing individual side effects or symptoms including:
    • Loss of appetite
    • Difficulty in eating or swallowing due to sores in your mouth and or throat
    • Nausea & vomiting
    • Taste changes
    • Diarrhoea and/or constipation
    • Blood sugar problems due to the disease or medication
    • Early menopause
    • Digestive issues and/or malabsorption
  • Checking your medications and discussing any suggestions or concerns with the doctor
  • Assessing your dietary habits and intake to compare this to your requirement

Food, eating and nutrition are much more than the food we put into our bodies.  It is the social connection, the time spent with family and friends, the freedom to choose, the control we have and the enjoyment of tastes and textures.  Changes in any or all of these can cause a huge sense of loss and worry for yourself and your loved ones.  Eating the right food during treatment is something you can do to help yourself and regain a sense of control.

The dietary treatment process will be individualized and managed according to your needs. It includes:

  • Dietary modification (e.g. low fibre, low fat, light, soft, liquid etc.) to manage your symptoms
  • Ideas to relieve your symptoms and provide nutritious meals despite challenges
  • Advice on healthy eating, food choices, hygiene and food preparation
  • Consideration will be given to culture, beliefs, food preferences, family and social structures
  • Prescribing of nutritional products and supplements if needed, to increase energy and protein intake or to manage specific nutrient deficiencies


There is an assortment of information to be found on the Internet and in the media regarding nutrition and Cancer.  Some of it is useful and true, but unfortunately, some of the information can be harmful and detrimental to your health in the long run.  Please ask your Dietitian for advice if you want to try any complementary or supportive products.  There is a place for many of these products, but the timing within your individual condition and treatment plan is important.  Always ask yourself some questions when you read or hear something:

Who said it?

  • Just because someone is famous or did something for a long time does not mean it is true for you
  • Just because someone claims to have a certain qualification does not mean they are an expert
  • Friends and family may have the best intentions to help and give advice, but check it against the facts

Where did the information come from?

  • Not everything in a magazine or article or book is scientific evidence
  • The internet is notoriously dangerous when you’re looking for information. Check the source
  • Scientific articles and scientific research is your best source of information

What is it / How does it work?

  • Anything that states to be a miracle cure or a “best-kept secret” is probably too good to be true
  • Statements like “detox”, “cleanse”, “helps”, and “natural” are also misleading

When is it applicable?

  • Different guidelines might be true for different people depending on their disease, treatment or tolerance
  • Different guidelines might be true at different times in the prevention, treatment and survivorship of Cancer

The right nutrition for your individual needs can assist you in the tolerance of treatment, faster healing and long-term wellness.  Please do not hesitate to contact the Dietitians for any advice or assistance.

The Dietitian involved in your Doctor’s Practice is:

PracticeName and SurnameEmailCell NumberWebsite
ABJ Wilgers
ABJ Midstream
Salomé 226 1338 
ACT Pretoria EastZelda Hugo 125 9817 
ABJ WitbankChristel Nel Dieteticschristelnelrdsa@gmail.com064 520 7009
013 692 3962
ABJ Klerksdorp
ABJ Potchefstroom
Anke Heymans 286 3436 
ABJ Benoni
ABJ Trichardt
Michelle 687 5221
082 299 4342
ABJ VereenigingDietitians on 905

The Dietitians work in association with the Doctor’s Practice. The Doctor may refer the patient to the Dietitian, but the patient still has to consent to a Dietetic consultation. Self-referral is also an option. The patient has the right to choose any Dietitian and does not have to choose the above-mentioned practitioner. Consultations may have to be done virtually.

The Dietitians are privately practising and contracted to all medical aids. Consultations can be paid in cash or submitted to your medical aid. The Dietitians are POPIA compliant.