Oncology Experts Warn Public Against Bogus Claims

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Oncology Experts Warn Against Bogus Nutritional Claims

In recent weeks following a number of inaccurate articles and commentary on diet and its role in cancer recovery, a group of senior oncology experts and bodies are warning consumers against listening to false and often dangerous nutritional advice which could impede their outcomes and potentially impact on their recovery rates. 

The group, which comprises the Irish Nutrition & Dietetic Institute (INDI), the Irish Cancer Society (ICS), the Irish Society of Medical Oncology (ISMO), and Breakthrough Cancer Research, is deeply concerned at recent recommendations that actively encourage patients undergoing chemotherapy to follow restrictive diets such as a vegan diet.

According to Dr Declan Byrne, Consultant Physician, St. James's Hospital and Chairman of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute, ‘It is simply not true that a vegan diet benefits patients undergoing chemotherapy. In fact, a vegan eating plan which removes dairy and animal protein from the diet is highly likely to lead to insufficient oral intake of protein and will further exacerbate muscle loss, as well as exposing patients to inadequate levels of many vitamins and minerals vital for health. This type of eating pattern is not recommended for cancer patients and could actually damage their health, wellbeing and chances of survival. Cancer patients need to consume a nutritious healthy diet high in calories and protein; animal protein and dairy products are sources of high biological value protein. Our main priority is to take care of our patients and we would strongly urge them to ignore such claims and take advice from respected sources such as their team of cancer professionals.’

The Irish Society of Medical Oncologists (ISMO) state that there is no ‘magic diet’ or eating pattern that will cure a patient of their cancer. Patients with cancer are encouraged to follow prescribed medical treatments by their oncologists and, in conjunction with this follow a high protein high calorie diet, especially those who have suffered involuntary weight loss.ISMO recommends that cancer patients stick to the advice of their medical oncologists and dietitians who follow international best practice guidelines on good nutrition for cancer. It does not recommend a vegan diet for cancer patients.

It is important to note that involuntary weight loss and malnutrition affects up to 80% of cancer patients. It is well known scientific fact, published in peer reviewed medical journals that cancer patients suffer from rapid muscle loss known as sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is present in up to 40% of cancer patients and it significantly reduces tolerance to chemotherapy, impairs quality of life, impedes physical activity, and shortens survival.

The group believes it is irresponsible to prey on the needs of patients who are undergoing treatment for cancer by proposing a diet that has no real evidence to support it. Patients trust in medical professionals to prescribe the best available treatments that modern medicine can offer. Such treatments are based on rigorous scientific testing in clinical trials that undergo intense scrutiny by regulatory authorities all around the world.

ISMO and the INDI have recently endorsed a book ‘good nutrition for cancer recovery’ which was developed by Irish oncologists, dietitians and nurses working in the field of oncology. Funded by a grant from the Health Research Board with support from Breakthrough Breast Cancer, it is available free of charge to cancer patients and outlines the impact of malnutrition in cancer and provides around 50 recipes of high protein high calorie meals, snacks and drinks to help attenuate weight loss. It is available through Breakthrough Cancer Research (www.breakthroughcancerresearch.ie). This is the type of eating pattern that can help patients with cancer to maintain their nutritional status while they face the challenge of their cancer treatment and gives them the best chance of fighting the disease.

The group is also asking the media to be extra vigilant in screening unqualified contributors to print articles, on radio and TV programmes to ensure the welfare of the general public. ‘The media plays a vital role in informing and educating the public and we are deeply concerned when their health and wellbeing is compromised,’ Dr Byrne commented.

For further information contact Nikki Gordon, Head of Communications (INDI) on 087 7985759 and communications@indi.ie

L to R: Ms Marguerite Tierney (Breakthrough Cancer Research), Dr Derek Power (Consultant Medical Oncologist, CUH & MUH), Dr Aoife Ryan (Lecturer in Nutritional Sciences, UCC), Ms Ann O’Connor (Lecturer in Culinary arts, CIT), Ms Jane Healy (Lecturer in Culinary arts, CIT), Dr Margaret Linehan (Head of School of Humanities, CIT), Ms Eadaoin Ni Bhuachalla (Research Dietititan, UCC).


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