New Problems Face Childhood Cancer Patients

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By Winston Huh, MD., assistant professor, Department of Pediatrics Patient Care, MD Anderson Cancer Center

dr.huh.jpgAs the treatment of childhood cancer, there has been a growing research interest in the area of cancer survivorship. While many childhood cancer survivors lead normal, healthy lives, we are realizing that other survivors are encountering new problems, like obesity.
Research studies have found that certain groups of childhood leukemia and brain tumor survivors are at increased risk of becoming obese. The causes? Well, the answers are not entirely clear and are likely due to several factors, like family genetics, history of radiation treatment to the brain and spine, and diet. While we may not be able to do anything about our family genetic makeup, we can do something to improve our nutrition. 

However, simply changing our diet and eating habits is not necessarily an easy task. We know that changes in taste are a side effect from some chemotherapy medicines, and some children are just picky eaters. Also, when you factor in today's world of mega-advertising for fast food with super-sized portions, it is easy to see why some families get frustrated when trying to eat healthy.

The Children's Cancer Hospital at MD Anderson recently started the ON to Life Program.
The ON to Life Program is a new multidisciplinary program staffed by physicians, registered clinical dietitians, and behavioral health professionals. The goals of the program are to research the role of nutrition in determining outcomes in various childhood cancers, evaluate diet and other health-related behaviors in patients and childhood cancer survivors, and provide an interactive resource to families designed to improve nutrition and promote a healthy lifestyle. The multidisciplinary nature integrating both laboratory and clinical research with patient education truly makes this program unique.

One project that I have taken a personal interest in is the development of a virtual cookbook.
The idea behind the virtual cookbook is to have an online repository of recipes that are nutritious, easy to prepare (I love the recipes from the gourmet magazines, but who has time to track down things like Vietnamese cinnamon or fresh Muscovy duck breast), and of course delicious. 

The plan is to collect recipes from families and various culinary experts in Houston. What a wonderful way to foster a relationship with our local community and patient families. Houston has an ethnic and culinary repertoire that is as diverse as any city in the nation.  And who better to know what recipes work than our patient families? I find the potential of the virtual cookbook quite exciting, and it's one of the projects that help make the ON to Life Program truly unique in the nation.  

Here are more details about the ON to Life Program, and look for the virtual cookbook. Bon appétit!


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