If Nutrition Is So Important, Why Didn’t My Oncologist Provide Nutrition Information?

Was the extent of the nutrition information you received during treatment a pamphlet, a general statement of “eat a well-balanced diet,” or even worse, were you told to eat whatever you want? You are not alone in your experience. Studies have shown that patients receive limited nutrition information from their oncologists, and when information is provided, the advice is typically very limited and general. I’m sure that is frustrating, but it’s important to consider the role of in the oncologist in your care and their level of expertise.

Should your oncologist know all the latest nutrition science or would you rather they be most knowledgeable on the most advanced treatments so they can provide a safe, effective, and personalized treatment plan? Just like you wouldn’t expect your oncologist to provide physical therapy, oncologists shouldn’t be expected to provide a series of one-on-one dietary consultations to meet someone’s individualized nutritional needs. It’s just not feasible, practical, or cost-effective. That’s why there are teams of specialists involved in your health care. You likely saw several practitioners through your treatment including surgeons, a medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, your primary care provider, nurses, social workers, etc. The point is, it takes a team of experts and practitioners to provide you the best care.

Oncology care requires a comprehensive team of health care professionals. 

Oncology care requires a comprehensive team of health care professionals. 

 

Registered dietitians are experts in nutrition, but they are frequently underutilized in oncology care. Comprehensive cancer centers usually have several dietitians, but that is not the norm in other treatment centers. If nutrition is so important, why didn’t your practitioners refer you to a dietitian? Maybe because they didn’t know who to send you to or were aware of the many barriers you could face in trying to access dietitian services. Medicare does not cover appointments with a dietitian for oncology purposes; Medicaid coverage varies by state, but generally is very limited. Insurance plans may require a referral or only allow a limited amount of appointments with a dietitian. Even if insurance does cover dietitian services, some private-practice dietitians won’t accept insurance because it can be challenging to become an in-network provider, manage billing, and wait for the slow reimbursement process.  Unfortunately, this results in patients who are already facing the financial burden of cancer care having to pay out of pocket to see a dietitian.

So where should one turn? An online health coach? A personal trainer? A book?  My next blog post will discuss the differences between a nutritionist and a dietitian and the importance of finding a qualified nutrition expert.

Have a question or a topic you’d like me to cover? Email me at drznutrition@gmail.com

Krystle Zuniga