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Oncologist. 2011;16(5):704-7. doi: 10.1634/theoncologist.2011-0001. Epub 2011 Apr 6.

The benefit of the neutropenic diet: fact or fiction?

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WVU Charleston Division, West Virginia, USA.


There really should not be a debate about the use of neutropenic diet for cancer patients. Its usefulness has never been scientifically proven. However, neutropenic diets remain in place in many institutions even though their usefulness is controversial. Neutropenic diets were once thought to be important in protecting patients from having to succumb to infection from neutropenia while undergoing chemotherapy. Although food may contain harmful organisms and research has shown that bacterial translocation is possible, recent studies have been unable to obtain significant differences between placebo and intervention groups. The dietetic challenges neutropenic patients struggle with include decreased quality of life, malnutrition, gastrointestinal side effects, food aversion, and impaired cell-mediated immunity from vitamin deficiency. Unanswered questions in regard to the neutropenic diet include the following: (a) which food should be included; (b) which food preparation techniques improve patient compliance; (c) which patient populations benefit most; and (d) when should such a diet be initiated. Without scientific evidence, the best advice for neutropenic patients is to follow food safety guidelines as indicated by government entities.

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