Chronic myeloid leukemia

Cancer treatment, including that for chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), can leave you feeling fatigued and take a toll on your immune system. Fortunately, eating well can help.

Use the following guidelines to help you get the nutrients you need to better manage your side effects and feel stronger during and after your CML treatment.

Eating a healthy diet during and after your CML treatment can help you maintain a healthy weight and support your immune system.

To help your body heal, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society recommends a balanced diet that includes:

  • 5 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains and legumes
  • low-fat, high-protein foods, such as fish, poultry, and lean meats
  • low-fat dairy

Ideally, one of your daily vegetable servings should be a cruciferous vegetable. Examples of cruciferous vegetables are:

  • kale
  • spinach
  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • watercress

According to the National Cancer Institute, cruciferous vegetables are a potent source of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids.

These vegetables contain a group of substances that, when broken down through preparation, chewing, and digestion, may have anticancer effects and may protect cells from DNA damage and inactivate carcinogens.

They’re also known to have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial effects.

Your CML treatment may reduce your appetite and cause side effects that can make it difficult to eat, such as nausea and mouth sores. Here are some tips that can make eating easier:

  • Eat frequently, opting for four to six small meals a day.
  • Drink nutrient-rich liquids, such as soups, juices, and shakes if you have trouble swallowing solid food.
  • Sip on water, ginger ale, and other clear liquids to prevent dehydration and ease nausea.
  • Add more calories by blending foods and soups with high-calorie liquids such as cream and gravy.
  • Cook foods until tender or choose soft foods.
  • Try different recipes and experiment with ingredients if treatment has altered your taste.
  • Ask for help with grocery shopping and food preparation.

A nutritionist trained in working with people with cancer may also be able to offer advice on boosting nutrition and making eating easier while on treatment.

Handling food properly is always important but even more so during treatment because of your weakened immune system.

The following are important food safety tips that can help you prepare and eat foods safely and lower your risk of infection or illness caused by food:

  • Wash your hands often, particularly before, during, and after food preparation.
  • Keep counters, cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and sinks clean.
  • Wash dish towels regularly.
  • Wash and rinse sponges and dishcloths frequently to remove bacteria.
  • Rinse all fruits and vegetables before peeling or eating.
  • Remove bruised or damaged areas on fruits and vegetables.
  • Don’t eat the outer leaves of cabbage or lettuce.
  • Don’t use the same dishes or utensils for eating or serving that were used on raw meat, poultry, or fish.
  • Wash all surfaces that have come into contact with raw meat, fish, or poultry.
  • Avoid thawing frozen meat on the counter; use the microwave or fridge instead.
  • Use a meat thermometer to ensure that meat is properly cooked.
  • Eat leftovers within three days.
  • Check expiration dates on foods before eating.
  • Refrigerate all cooked or perishable food within two hours of preparing or purchasing.

Additionally, the Partnership for Food Safety says avoiding harmful bacteria is as easy as remembering a few simple things: keeping hands and surfaces clean; separating foods to avoid cross-contamination; cooking food to the right temperature; and refrigerating leftovers promptly and properly.

Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell that help lead the body’s immune system response. Neutropenia, the term for low neutrophil levels, can occur as a result of certain CML treatments.

If you have low levels of neutrophils, your doctor may recommend a neutropenic diet until your counts improve. Along with taking extra care with food safety, a neutropenic diet can help further reduce your exposure to bacteria.

When following a neutropenic diet, you generally must avoid:

  • all uncooked vegetables
  • most uncooked fruits, except those with a thick peel like banana or citrus fruits
  • raw or rare meat
  • uncooked fish
  • uncooked or undercooked eggs
  • most foods from salad bars and deli counters
  • soft, mold-ripened and blue-veined cheeses, like Brie, bleu, Camembert, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, and Stilton
  • well water that hasn’t been boiled for at least one minute
  • unpasteurized dairy products

Although food can’t treat your cancer, eating the right foods can help you feel better. Speak to your doctor or nutritionist about any special instructions or considerations specific to your CML and nutrition needs.