Use of Nutritional Supplementation in the Treatment of Cancer Patients

HRD-79-46: Published: Jan 22, 1979. Publicly Released: Feb 1, 1979.

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Medical personnel generally believe that some groups of cancer patients have serious nutritional deficiencies and that nutritional supplementation may be an important adjunct to their treatment. Some preliminary research results indicate that nutritional supplementation may have benefited certain cancer patients; however, great uncertainty still exists concerning the extent of possible benefits. During the course of a review of nutritional supplementation in the treatment of cancer patients, GAO obtained information on the nutritional supplementation activities at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center and compared them with those of three leading teaching hospitals.

Nutritional supplementation activities at the NIH Clinical Center are very similar to those at the three teaching hospitals reviewed, except that total parenteral nutrition is used less frequently at the Center. The Director of NIH feels that it is appropriate for the Center physicians to reserve judgement about use of nutritional supplementation in cancer patients, and that: (1) additional research is required to determine its usefulness; (2) NIH has a key role in answering questions about the usefulness of medical techniques; (3) the Center offers an ideal environment to perform research to answer the questions while still providing good patient care; and (4) Center physicians should remain skeptical about unproven medical practice techniques, such as use of nutritional supplementation for cancer patients. Additional space for nutritional research at NIH has been planned for the new Center wing scheduled for completion in 1982. The National Cancer Institute, jointly with other NIH institutes, plans to fund up to 10 nutritional research units at centers with preexisting expertise in nutrition. These units may have an important role in the area of nutritional training and education.

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