Study: More Dietitians Needed in Cancer Centers to Help Patients Stay Well-Nourished Throughout Treatment and Beyond

Nutritional counseling optimizes cancer care, yet there’s an average of about one dietitian for every 2,300 patients nationally

Featured Video Play Icon

(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – Keeping patients as healthy and strong as possible throughout cancer treatment is vital to coping with side effects to minimize disruptions to care and prevent additional hospitals admissions due to malnutrition. However, up to 80 percent of cancer patients become malnourished at some point during their treatment. A new study by researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) finds that many patients do not have access to nutritional counseling because there are simply not enough registered dietitian nutritionists staffed in 215 outpatient cancer centers.      

     “These patients are not being provided access to appropriate nutritional counseling,” said study senior author Colleen Spees, PhD, RD, a registered dietitian nutritionist and researcher at OSUCCC – James. “It is critically important that malnutrition is identified early, and dietitians are uniquely trained to be able to do that.”

   The study surveyed outpatient cancer centers across the country and found there is only about one registered dietitian for every 2,300 patients, making it impossible for these professionals to provide the personalized care needed to find the right combination of food and exercise for every patient. 

     To address the lack of RDs in cancer care, Spees is leading a new clinical trial that offers remote nutritional counseling sessions with a dedicated registered dietitian to lung cancer patients. Once the dietitian had determined the optimal diet for each patient, medically tailored meals are delivered straight to patients’ homes.

     “If this method is successful, it can really change the paradigm of care and help more patients access this critical resource. This will help keep patients at optimal nutritional status to help them fight their disease,” said Spees. “This food-first approach can maintain patients’ immune systems and strength to improve their quality of life through cancer treatment and into survivorship.”

Images

(click to download)

Tina Gump feeds her granddaughter an apple. Nutritional counseling has helped her find the right combination of food and exercise to keep her energy up while being treated for leukemia.

Colleen Spees, PhD, RD, (left) works with chef Stephanie Urrutia in the educational kitchen at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center - Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. Medically tailored meals prevent malnutrition and help cancer patients stay as strong and healthy as possible throughout treatment.

Anna Maria Bittoni, RD, (right) conducts a nutritional counseling session with Tina Gump at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center - Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. A new study finds a shortage of registered dietitians in outpatient cancer centers to help patients stay healthy and nourished during treatment.

Tina Gump has more energy to play with her granddaughter after working with a registered dietitian who specializes in oncology. Tina takes medication to control her leukemia, and feels much stronger on a daily basis after making recommended changes to her diet and exercise routine.

Colleen Spees, PhD, RD, samples a meal made for patients at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center - Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. Customizing meals can prevent malnutrition in cancer patients, but Spees led a study that found dietitians are severely understaffed at outpatient cancer centers, making it impossible to offer this resource to every patient.