Purpose: To investigate the impact of dietary counseling or nutritional supplements on outcomes in cancer patients: nutritional, morbidity, and quality of life (QoL) during and 3 months after radiotherapy.
Patients and methods: A total of 111 colorectal cancer outpatients referred for radiotherapy, stratified by staging, were randomly assigned: group 1 (G1; n = 37), dietary counseling (regular foods); group 2 (G2; n = 37), protein supplements; and group 3 (G3; n = 37), ad libitum intake. Nutritional intake (diet history), status (Ottery's Subjective Global Assessment), and QoL (European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer Quality of Life Questionnaire version 3.0) were evaluated at baseline, at the end, and 3 months after radiotherapy.
Results: At radiotherapy completion, energy intake increased in G1/G2 (P < or = .04), G1 more than G2 (P = .001), and decreased in G3 (P < .01). Protein intake increased in G1/G2 (P < or = .007), G1 less than G2 (not significant), and decreased in G3 (P < .01). At 3 months, G1 maintained nutritional intake and G2/G3 returned to baseline. After radiotherapy and at 3 months, rates of anorexia, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea were higher in G3 (P < .05). At radiotherapy completion, in G1 all QoL function scores improved proportionally to adequate intake or nutritional status (P < .05); whereas in G2 only three of six function scores improved proportionally to protein intake (P = .04), and in G3 all scores worsened (P < .05). At 3 months, G1 patients maintained/improved function, symptoms, and single-item scores (P < .02); in G2, only few function and symptom scales improved (P < .05); in G3, QoL remained as poor as after radiotherapy. In G1/G2, respectively, improvement/deterioration of QoL correlated with better or poorer intake or nutritional status (P < .003).
Conclusion: During radiotherapy, both interventions positively influenced outcomes; dietary counseling was of similar or higher benefit, whereas even 3 months after RT, it was the only method to sustain a significant impact on patient outcomes.