In a test, cancer hospital customizes diet to help patients

A leading cancer hospital is tackling a big problem that keeps many patients from healing—loss of appetite.

The innovative program, getting under way at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center in New York City, will design customized diets for patients after assessing their particular reasons for not eating enough, such as nausea, difficulty swallowing or depression. Patients will receive prepared meals at home from a nonprofit group called God’s Love We Deliver. A randomized controlled trial will assess whether patients benefit from the program.

Cancer patients traditionally get dietary advice, but it may provide little help in overcoming eating difficulties. The NYU program aims to offer patients more concrete solutions. “We are not simply throwing food at them,” says Erin Jennings, an oncology dietitian and a co-investigator on the study. “We are providing a nutritional ‘intervention’ for them.”

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Omar Ishaq, chief resident in radiation oncology at NYU who came up with the nutrition-study idea, says even though patients are getting the very latest in cancer therapies, many of them stop eating and become malnourished. “They end up staying in the hospital and have more complications from treatment,” Dr. Ishaq says.

NYU doctors are beginning to enroll 180 patients with advanced, stage 4 lung and gastrointestinal cancers to participate in the randomized controlled trial. Half the group will be assessed for eating problems and receive customized meals, while the rest will get just the nutrition counseling that NYU typically provides its cancer patients.

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