Nutrition Therapy for Liver Cancer

While maintaining good nutrition is important for all cancer patients, for patients with liver cancer, it’s especially important and can be especially challenging. Nutritional status and diet are relevant factors in a patient’s prognosis, but at the same time, patients with liver cancer are at increased risk for malnutrition due to impaired liver function that may be caused by the disease, cirrhosis and tumor-directed therapies.

At Roswell Park, patients with liver cancer undergo nutrition screenings to determine whether interventions and/or focused nutrition counseling and treatment is necessary. Roswell Park’s dietitians are uniquely experienced in working with cancer patients to prevent malnutrition, improve tolerance to treatments, promote healing and reduce infection risk.

Nutrition Services

Any patient who wishes to optimize their nutrition is encouraged to seek the expert services of our Registered Dietitians.

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Avoiding malnutrition in liver cancer patients

Malnutrition is a frequent but underdiagnosed problem in cancer patients that describes a decline in lean body mass that can impair function, such as mobility, and ability to care for oneself and/or resist infection.  About one-third of cancer patients are malnourished and contributing factors include poor appetite, feeling full too quickly, pain, difficulty chewing or swallowing, diarrhea or constipation, nausea or vomiting, and fatigue. 

Malnutrition is often associated with being thin and underweight, but overweight or obese patients can still be considered malnourished. Cancer-related cachexia, a condition of substantial loss of weight, muscle and strength, poses a great risk to cancer patients and our dietitians work with your oncologists to take every measure to prevent it. In patients with liver cancer, cachexia may develop gradually and be masked by other effects of the disease or its treatment, such as fluid retention and swelling caused by edema or ascites.

How we can help

Our dietitians will take a full assessment that includes your medical history, review of laboratory tests, measurement of height, weight, BMI, and body composition tests, plus a discussion about what you eat and drink and changes to your appetite.

Based on your assessment, the dietitian will make specific recommendations for you which may include:

  • Increasing nutrient-rich foods to increase calories and prevent weight loss
  • Choosing vegetable-proteins over animal-proteins based on tolerance (e.g digestion)
  • Avoiding saturated fats which can worsen symptoms of cirrhosis and fatty liver disease
  • A soft, blended diet to address early satiety or feeling full, common in liver patients with ascites
  • Oral nutrition supplements such as Boost or Kate Farms
  • Foods or oral supplements that contain medium chain triglycerides, or MCT fats, which are better tolerated and digested in patients who do not produce bile. MCT fats are found in coconut, olive and other vegetable oils.