Nutrition after Cancer Surgery Improves Patient Recovery


Cancer patients can recover faster from surgery if they are given enteral nutrition through a feeding tube, according to new research to be presented Monday at the National Cancer Research Institute Conference. A clinical trial of 121 UK patients with gastrointestinal cancers, particularly those of the esophagus, stomach and pancreas, were found to recover three days faster and with fewer complications when given supplemental nutrition support than those who were only hydrated with an intravenous drip of saline.

Dr. Rachael Barlow, the lead investigator on the study also found that patients given nutrition therapy were more likely to be healthier and have an improved quality of life in the months following the surgery.


A previous study published in the November 2001 issue of the Lancet found similar results. Over 300 gastrointestinal cancer patients were given nutrition support, either by enteral nutrition or total parenteral nutrition (nutrients through an IV instead of the GI tract, also known as TPN). Postoperative complications for patients who received enteral nutrition were significant lower than those who received TPN, and hospital stays were shorter.

Patients with gastrointestinal cancers have traditionally had food withheld for several days following surgical procedures, as surgery to the GI tract can cause some intolerance to enteral nutrition products. Studies from the early sixties indicate that the small bowel can recover its ability to absorb nutrients very soon after surgery, and should be used when possible to preserve the integrity of the gut lining, improving outcomes.

Adequate nutrition is encouraged after cancer surgery, however some patients may not be able to take in enough nutrition through food alone. A tube may be placed into the patient’s stomach or upper intestine to allow infusion of a liquid supplement for nutrition support.

Sources: National Cancer Institute, The Lancet - Vol 358 No 9292, and Transfusion Medicine and Hemotherapy – Vol 22 No 5 1995