Boosting cancer treatment recovery through better nutrition

1 September 2015

Teresa Brown and patient Ian Shackleton. Image courtesy of the Royal Brisbane & Women's Hospital.Dietitian and researcher Teresa Brown has been awarded the 2016 Sir Robert Menzies Memorial Research Scholarship in the Allied Health Sciences to further her research into the links between better nutrition and cancer treatment recovery times.

Teresa, a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland and Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, is conducting a first-of-its-kind study in Australia improving patient nutrition for head and neck cancer patients before they receive treatment.

The Menzies Scholarship, valued at $55,000 over two years, will enable Teresa to complete the final stage of her PhD.

“We’re getting patients to use a feeding tube upon admission, before they receive any treatment. By giving them a nutrition boost early, we’re hoping to reduce the impact of malnutrition and leave them with an improved quality of life.

“Better nutrition maintains muscle, strength and energy levels, and can reduce the length of stay in the hospital. It also reduces the chance of readmission due to malnutrition or dehydration”, Teresa said.

While it seems like common sense, it’s the first study of its kind in Australia that examines the benefit of providing early nutrition support to patients who are not already suffering from difficulty eating or drinking.

Traditionally nutrition plans have been reactive and relied on a combination of advice from dietitians and a reliance on patients to follow their advised meal plans – something which can become difficult due to low energy levels, poor appetite and side effects from the treatment such as pain related to swallowing or severe changes to taste.

Typically, patients suffering from head and neck cancer go through 3-7 sessions of chemotherapy during a course of seven weeks of radiotherapy and end up losing around 9 per cent of bodyweight over the course of treatment and recovery stages. Deterioration in nutrition often results in early re-admission of patients to hospital and less effective treatment.

Through her research, Teresa Brown and her team are hoping to get that weight loss down to under 5 per cent - the magical mark at which weight loss is no longer deemed clinically detrimental to the patient.

The Sir Robert Menzies Memorial Research Scholarship in the Allied Health Sciences has being offered every year since 1988 to an Australian PhD candidate studying in the field of Allied Health Research.

Teresa is pictured above with patient Ian Shackleton. Image courtesy of the Royal Brisbane & Women's Hospital.

Tags: Leadership Menzies Scholar Allied Health