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Nutrition and Cancer: We speak with an Expert from SCCA

Nutrition and Cancer: We speak with an Expert from SCCA

Kerry McMillen is a Registered Dietitian as well as the Medical Nutrition Therapy Manager for our partner, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. In addition, she’s a board-certified specialist in oncology nutrition and a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She’s spent more than 20 years working at SCCA and manages a team of 11 Registered Dietitians (RDs). When you are facing a cancer diagnosis, it’s important to get evidence-based nutrition advice from experts like RDs, especially those who are board-certified experts in oncology nutrition. Many RDs work together with care teams to help patients to stay stronger and feel better during and after cancer treatment. We recently reached out to Kerry to talk about why nutrition is so important for people being treated for cancer.

“Nutrition plays a significant role in helping patients minimize side effects and increase energy and immunity during treatment,” says Kerry. “But there’s no ‘right’ diet for everyone. Your care team can help you figure out a plan that works for you. During treatment, you should focus on getting enough calories, protein and fluid while at the same time managing your symptoms. If you have specific questions, ask your medical team to refer you to an RD.”

Although a good diet has many benefits, it plays an important role in cancer prevention. The American Institute for Cancer Research has excellent nutrition guidelines for cancer prevention founded in research and science. Kerry has provided some great resources at the end of this article. In addition, weight maintenance is an important factor related to diet. Excess body fat is associated with 12 different cancer types, so maintaining a healthy body weight is very important in cancer prevention.

We asked Kerry to share 3-5 take-home points with us. There are no surprises here, and they’re all backed up by science:

  • Plant-based diets are the healthiest.
  • Eat a rainbow of color from fruits and vegetables every day—the brighter the color, and the more variety, the better.
  • Limit red and processed meats. Red meat includes beef, lamb and pork.
  • Avoid sugary drinks and alcoholic beverages.

“My favorite point is that there are no ‘magic’ foods or diets to prevent, cure or treat cancer,” says Kerry. “Embrace variety and eat whole foods. Commit to make small changes to improve your health. It can be overwhelming to tackle too much at once. If you have questions, speak to an expert. Do not rely on the Internet for health advice.”

Here is list of resources on cancer and nutrition that Kerry recommends:

You can also search the AICR site for myths about nutrition. For example, research shows whole soy foods eaten in moderation are safe for breast cancer patients despite myths to the contrary.

Patients who are established at SCCA can receive nutritional counseling from Kerry and her team, but there are many RDs who specialize in cancer-related diets. When you search for an RD, look for “CSO” (board-certified specialist in oncology nutrition) behind their name. Please feel free to reach out to our concierge team if you need any help: concierge@seattleprotons.org.