April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. AICR is raising awareness and providing the latest research on oral cancer prevention and sharing tips on managing nutrition during treatment. Oral cancer includes cancers of the mouth (lips, tongue and cheeks), pharynx and larynx.
Tobacco use and alcohol are the most important risk factors for this cancer. AICR’s CUP report on cancers of the mouth, pharynx and larynx found strong evidence that drinking alcohol and having excess body fat increase risk. Evidence suggests that nutrition can play a crucial role in preventing oral cancer. Having an overall healthy diet and including plenty of vegetables may be helpful in decreasing the risk of cancer.
A plant-rich diet with minimal highly processed foods can support having and maintaining a healthy weight. Choose colorful, non-starchy vegetables and fruits, including bright red, orange and lots of greens. Getting in the habit of eating one to two servings of fruit or vegetables at each meal will help you meet the recommendations for eating at least five servings per day and contribute to having a healthy weight. It’s never too late to start eating fruit and vegetables, even if you have battled oral cancer before.
If you are diagnosed with oral cancer, you are likely to find that during and after treatment, mouth and chewing pain, taste changes and dryness might impact your ability to eat a balanced diet. Work with your health care team to help manage these side effects. In particular, an oncology dietitian can help you manage your symptoms and suggest food and nutrition options to improve your nutrition. Maintaining a healthy diet as much as possible during treatment can help improve treatment tolerance.
You may find that you need to manage your food choices for a long period even after treatment has ended. Foods that are soft, moist and/or chopped small may be more acceptable and easier to eat. Here are some ideas for soothing and nutrient-rich foods:
- Fruit and vegetable-blended smoothies, served either cold or at room temperature
- Soups, served either warm or at room temperature. Serve at regular texture or blended and puréed
- Yogurt, either frozen, cold or at room temperature
- Beans, lentils or legumes mixed in soups, casseroles or puréed into a dip
- Cooked cereals like oatmeal, steel cut oats or cream of wheat, served either warm or at room temperature
- Nut and seed butters like peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter or sunflower seed butter