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However, the interventions do not appear to affect survival for these patients, according to the findings published in the Feb. 15 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
For the study, Christine Baldwin, a lecturer in the nutritional sciences division at King's College London, and colleagues analyzed data from 13 clinical trials that included a total of more than 1,400 cancer patients who were malnourished or at risk of malnutrition. Some of the patients received oral nutritional support (dietary advice and/or supplements) while others received routine care.
Oral nutritional support had a wide range of effects on both weight and energy intake, and led to improvements in aspects of quality of life, such as emotional functioning, shortness of breath and loss of appetite. However, this type of intervention had no effect on patient death rates, the study authors noted in a journal news release.
The level of benefit varied between patients, and the authors concluded that "it is likely that the factors such as site and stage of disease and, indeed, variations in the duration, nature and intensity of the nutritional intervention will account for difference in effects in patients."
International guidelines have suggested oral nutritional intervention for malnourished cancer patients or those who are at nutritional risk, but these suggestions are based largely on expert opinion as opposed to clinical trials, according to background information in the study.
Commenting in an editorial accompanying the study, Ann O'Mara and Diane St. Germain of the U.S. National Cancer Institute wrote that "until future research provides clearer answers regarding who will benefit from nutritional interventions, the use of a comprehensive assessment, published nutritional guidelines and early interventions are essential."
-- Robert Preidt
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