How to find an Oncology Dietician

14 Jun 2023

By Georgia Cassimatis

A cancer patient usually starts thinking about food when treatment begins, wanting to know what food they should eat, avoid and if they should eat ‘clean’. With many health providers and food experts on offer, we navigate the terrain starting with an Oncology Dietician: a Dietician who works in hospital settings to help cancer patients navigate nutritional issues.

Once a cancer diagnosis is made, an important part of cancer treatment is to not only find out what to eat, but also what food to help build immunity and a healthy body, thereafter.

Your Oncologist, Specialist Breast Surgeon or Breast Care Nurse can refer you to an Oncology Dietician: that is, a Dietician who works in hospital settings helping cancer patients and their families navigate nutrition issues that that may occur due to the side effects of treatment, such as malnutrition, fatigue, dry mouth, constipation and diarrhea.

Alternatively, the DAA: Dieticians Association Australia are the most reputable source for finding one. Every Oncology Dietician sourced through DAA is an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD). They will have extensive skills and knowledge required to treat cancer patients, such as the impact a cancer diagnosis and treatment has on the absorption of nutrients.

You might think that an Oncology Dietician will have strict food guidelines and that they will be overly critical, which is not the case. They are there to support you and help formulate a meal plan specific to your needs, favourite foods included. They offer personalised guidelines based on your biological needs, circumstances, as well as plans for families or caregivers to support nutritional needs, with recipes, lists of foods to eat, dietary supplements, and vitamins.

The fees for an Oncology Dietician can vary between $50-$150 per session, with concession rates on offer, as well as Health Fund and Medicare rebates. A Medicare rebate with a General Practitioner (GP) referral is around $50.00. You may be eligible for a Medicare rebate as part of a Chronic Disease GP Management Plan. The number of visits rebated will also depend on the plan. Speak to your GP to find out if you’re eligible.

During a consultation an Oncology Dietician will:

  • Perform an overall physical assessment, assessing things such as weight, brittle hair, weak nails, and other signs of a nutritional imbalance.
  • Go through your current diet and see where changes might need to be made. They will ask questions such as what you eat each meal, how many meals you have per day, what you crave, what you don’t like, and how certain foods affect you.

To get the most out of your first Oncology Dietitian consultation, it’s best to give as much information as possible, such as your list of current medications and supplements, and side effects from any types of food. It’s ideal to keep a food journal for a few days prior to the consultation so you have a list of what you eat daily, which you can go through with your practitioner.

Once treatment has finished, an Oncology Dietician will give you the tools to be consistent with healthy eating 80% of the time, while maintaining a healthy weight range and good immunity.

While the beauty about treatment by an Oncology Dietician is that the food principles learnt can be implemented in your life in general, there are other health providers you might want to also seek out such as an Oncology Nutritionist or an Oncology Naturopath.

The difference between a Dietician and a Nutritionist is that a Dietician has a four-year university degree in Science, Nutrition and Dietetics. Dieticians also work in hospital settings whereas Nutritionists don’t and can be qualified after a three-week Diploma. It is always a good idea to check a Dietician’s or Nutritionist’s qualifications and experience in oncology, as it really depends on what advice and guidance you are after.

You can find a Nutritionist through the Nutrition Society of Australia. They have established a Register of Nutritionists who are properly trained and whose credentials have been validated. One who is registered with the NSA will have a Bachelor level degree in nutrition, plus three years of advanced post graduate study, or professional experience in nutrition.

For those who are after a more holistic approach to treatment, an Oncology Naturopath uses natural methods such as herbal medicines and physical therapies to support established conventional cancer treatments.

  • To further explore the differences between an Oncology Dietician, an Oncology Nutritionist and an Oncology Naturopath, follow this link: [LINK: potential link to other article]
  • Read our blog about healthy eating and good hygiene.

This content is brought to you in partnership with Eli Lilly Australia and developed independently by the team at Pink Hope.