Nutritional concerns of cancer patients and their families

  • M. N. Patella
  • D. Goldin
  • M. Aggujaro
  • L. De Gobbi
  • R. Giarretta
  • E. Michieli
  • P. Pallini
  • G. Ronzani
  • E. Salice
  • P. Fiduccia
  • R. Pertile
  • D. Fedele
Original Article


Aim and methods

Nutrition, unhealthy lifestyles and cancer appear to be strictly related, but few authors have analysed the interest in dietary information of cancer patients and their families. This survey was conducted in the Veneto area (Italy) to investigate the concern of cancer patients and their family members about diet as a health tool before and after diagnosis of cancer.


Seven hundred and four questionnaires were collected: 380 from cancer patients and 324 from family members of cancer subjects. Breast cancer (BC) was the most frequent disease for patients (61.8%) as well as families (26.5%). Generally, the importance of having precise diet information after diagnosis is recognised by 40.3% of patients, with significant differences between the various types of cancer: gastric and colon/rectum cancer (GCC) patients were more concerned than BC women about precise information concerning a diet to follow immediately after diagnosis (p = 0.000, ODs = 3.10, CI 1.68–5.71) or during treatments (p = 0.001, ODs = 2.67, CI 1.46–4.89). The nutritional information is supplied to patients in 34% of cases and to relatives in 30.3%, often from non-medical sources. In total healthcare workers (family doctor, oncologist, surgeon, dietician) represented the exclusive source of dietary information for 24.9% of patients and 22.9% of family members. Diet after diagnosis changes in 69.1% of GCC patients and in 39.2% of BC women. Relatives, particularly women, report difficulties preparing patients’ meals in 30.7% of cases, changes in the eating habits of the entire family in 29.9% and discontent connected with patients diet in 13.9%. The concern about proper nutrition after diagnosis increases more in GCC subjects (p < 0.025) when compared to BC subjects and in patients with more recent diagnosis (p < 0.041) when compared with patients with diagnosis >5 years ago, while in family members the interest in diet after diagnosis increases more in women than in men (p < 0.030) without other differences regarding the degree of relationship, type of cancer or diagnosis time. Relatives (92.7%) have more interest in nutritional education than patients (74.9%). Cancer patients <65 years were more interested in educational initiatives concerning nutrition (p = 0.000, ODs = 4.46, CI 2.6–7.4) than older patients (>65 years) and female subjects were more concerned than male patients (p = 0.008, ODs = 2.11, CI 1.2–3.6).


The interest in the dietary knowledge and in educational initiatives concerning nutrition is high in cancer patients and their relatives, although it decreases with the age. The poor attention paid to nutrition of cancer patients by various healthcare workers deserves consideration, since the psychophysical wellbeing and perhaps also survival of cancer patients can be improved by correct dietary management, as well as, naturally, by the principal treatments themselves.


Nutritional interest Nutritional education Breast cancer Gastric and colon/rectum cancer 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Italia 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. N. Patella
    • 1
    • 2
  • D. Goldin
    • 2
  • M. Aggujaro
    • 2
  • L. De Gobbi
    • 2
  • R. Giarretta
    • 2
  • E. Michieli
    • 2
  • P. Pallini
    • 2
  • G. Ronzani
    • 2
  • E. Salice
    • 2
  • P. Fiduccia
    • 3
  • R. Pertile
    • 4
  • D. Fedele
    • 1
  1. 1.Dietetics and Clinical Nutrition UnitULSS (Unità Locale Socio-Sanitaria) 16PaduaItaly
  2. 2.Italian Association of Dietetics and Clinical Nutrition (ADI)Veneto AreaItaly
  3. 3.Istituto Oncologico Veneto (IOV)PaduaItaly
  4. 4.Department of Medicine and Public Health, Section of Psychiatry and Clinical PsychologyUniversity of VeronaVeronaItaly

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