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Effects of specialised nutritional interventions in patients with incurable cancer: a systematic review


Objective To evaluate current evidence of the effect of specialised nutritional interventions on nutritional status, survival, quality of life and measures of functionality in patients with incurable cancer.

Methods Systematic literature review according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines using PubMed/MEDLINE, EMBASE, Scopus, LILACS and Cochrane Library databases. Clinical studies that evaluated different specialised nutritional interventions, such as nutritional counselling, oral nutritional supplementation (ONS), enteral nutrition (EN) and parenteral nutrition (PN), were eligible. Only studies classified as being of high methodological quality (ie, low or moderate risk of bias) were included.

Results A total of 22 studies reporting on 2448 patients were deemed eligible. Five types of specialised nutrition were observed: mixed (multimodal nature, ie, dietary counseling, ONS, physical activity and/or drugs) (n=12), ONS (n=5), PN (n=3), EN (n=1) and multidisciplinary team counselling (n=1). Benefits of any kind from the interventions were reported in 14 (63.6%) studies, mainly resulting from mixed intervention. Nutritional status improved in 12 (60.0%) of 20 studies and quality of life improved in eight (50.0%) of 16 studies. Few studies have evaluated the influence of nutritional interventions on survival and measure of functionality, and have not shown improvement in these outcomes.

Conclusion Despite the limited evidence, specialised nutritional interventions can yield positive effects for patients with incurable cancer, mainly in their nutritional status and quality of life.

  • cancer
  • clinical decisions
  • complementary therapy
  • quality of life
  • supportive care
  • rehabilitation

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