Can Dietary Therapy Reduce Treatment-Related Side Effects?


The shock of a cancer diagnosis is a jarring, life-altering experience that, unfortunately, is not exclusive to adults. Over 10,000 American children under the age of 15 will be diagnosed this year, and rates continue to rise.

Parents are left asking countless questions about their child’s wellbeing, including about side effects of treatment. Elena Ladas, PhD, RD, Assistant Professor of Nutrition in Pediatrics and in the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University, has made it her professional mission to provide answers for parents asking that very question.

Honing in on the use of integrative medicine for symptom management, Dr. Ladas has done extensive research on therapies such as acupuncture, massage and dietary therapy and how they may be able to assist in reducing treatment-associated side effects.

Dietary therapy, in particular, is a key area of focus for Dr. Ladas.

“We’re trying to learn what nutrition means in terms of a prognostic factor for both clinical outcomes and treatment-related toxicity,” said Dr. Ladas.  As Co-Director of the Center for Comprehensive Wellness at Columbia, she evaluates the influence of diet and nutrition during cancer treatment, with the hope that these therapies can someday become standards of care.

“What’s hard for clinicians is that there isn’t a lot of data in pediatric oncology to drive our recommendations,” she said. “Currently, there really isn’t a uniform recommendation that we give all pediatric cancer patients in terms of how diet can play a role both in preventing those acute side effects from cancer therapy, as well as preventing the long-term effects.”

A guest of Kara Kelly, MD, Chair of Pediatric Oncology at Roswell Park, Dr. Ladas recently shared her expertise during a special seminar with Roswell Park’s Department of Pediatrics. She also sat down for an extended interview surrounding her research with Roswell Park Cancer Talk. 

“Awareness starts with research,” said Dr. Ladas. “Before we can make evidence-based recommendations we have to understand how the two interface with one another during treatment.”

In our accompanying podcast, Dr. Ladas shares more about her research and the role that diet may play in cancer treatment therapy, Dr. Ladas discusses her international work and the book she co-authored with Dr. Kelly titled Integrative Strategies for Cancer Patients: A Practical Resource for Managing the Side Effects of Cancer Therapy.