OBJECTIVES: The aim of this study was to investigate the prevalence of cancer patients changing their diet in relation to cancer site, sex, age and geographic distribution. Furthermore, we aimed to explore the rationale behind dietary changes and to identify sources of information in order to plan specific educational training.
METHODS: Patients ≥18 y of age who accessed the Italian Cancer Patients, Families and Friends Association information points were invited to participate. An ad hoc self-report questionnaire was used. The questionnaire asked patients about changes made to the major food groups. A minimum sample of 100 patients for the most common cancers was planned. We analyzed 1257 questionnaires. We assessed the prevalence of, reasons for, and type of dietary changes. Logistic regression was used to analyze the main determinants of dietary changes.
RESULTS: Of the 1257 patients, 705 (56.1%) reported changes since receiving the diagnosis of cancer. On the logistic regression analysis, age and tumor site were significantly associated with dietary changes (P <0.001), mainly in patients <50 y of age and in those with upper gastrointestinal cancers. Slightly more than half (50.8%) of patients adopted a healthier diet, with 31.3% doing so to deal with eating-related side effects and 17.9% due to cancer sites. Regardless of the reasons for changing, the most common food items to result in a decrease in consumption were alcohol, red and processed meats, and sugary drinks. Only 15% of patients reported receiving specific nutrition indication.
CONCLUSION: Italian patients are attentive to the importance of diet during cancer treatment. Personal choices reflect some indications for cancer prevention as there is still a shortage of guidelines for a correct diet during treatment. Nutrition indications are rarely given within the oncologic center.