Side Effects of Cancer Treatment

The Cancer Nutrition Center Handbook

Eat well to give you that extra edge as you participate in your own recovery. Choose healthy foods to empower you. This gives you a chance to feed your body the nutrition that it needs to fight the cancer.

Side Effects of Cancer Treatment

Some Suggestions on how to Handle Them

    Eat well to give you that extra edge as you participate in your own recovery. Choose healthy foods to empower you. This gives you a chance to feed your body the nutrition that it needs to fight the cancer. Improved nutrition can also help you withstand the side effects of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Some treatments may make eating difficult or distasteful. Here are some specific suggestions to help you with some of the most common treatment-related problems. Even if some of these suggestions are in conflict with the basic high fiber/low saturated fat concepts you are familiar with, maintaining a reasonably constant body weight is your overriding priority at this time. Fats or oils from sources that contain more of the beneficial fatty acids are useful to boost calories and still support your immunity. Examples include olives (and olive oil), avocados, nuts (almonds, walnuts and Brazil nuts are particularly good), seeds (sunflower or pumpkin).

    Suggestions for chewing and swallowing difficulties:

    1. Eat foods prepared with moist heat, e.g. soups, stews, eggs, pastas, quiches, casseroles.
    2. Add gravy, sauces, butter, mayonnaise or salad dressings to make food easier to swallow.
    3. Avoid highly seasoned, spicy, tart or acidic foods (no citrus fruits, tomatoes, chilies)
    4. Avoid alcohol and smoking.
    5. Cold foods may be soothing if there are sores in the mouth.
    6. Keep your caloric intake high by using meal replacement type drinks, e.g. Ensure.
    7. If you have trouble swallowing soups, try using a cup or glass instead of a spoon.

    Suggestions for dealing with diarrhea:

    1. Avoid high fiber foods that contain a great deal of roughage, e.g. whole wheat breads or cereals, raw fruits and vegetables except bananas, cooked vegetables with seeds or skins, dried beans and nuts, popcorn. Cucumber and lettuce may be difficult to digest.
    2. Eat water soluble, fiber-rich foods, e.g. apple sauce or puree, psyllium, e.g. Metamucil.
    3. Don't drink with your meals, but drink plenty of water in between.
    4. Eat frequent, small snack type meals, rather than three large ones.
    5. Food and liquids should be warm or a room temperature, rather than very hot or ice cold.
    6. For severe diarrhea restrict the diet to clear, warm liquids such as broth, flat ginger ale or apple juice for one day. Check with your doctor if it persists more than one day.

    Suggestions for dealing with nausea and/or vomiting:

    1. Eat and drink slowly.
    2. Eat small, frequent meals.
    3. Avoid greasy, fatty and fried foods.
    4. Rest after meals.
    5. For early morning or pre-meal nausea, try a cracker or dry toast.
    6. Make up for lost calories when you feel more comfortable.
    7. If cooking odors make you feel nauseated, try microwaving. Use a strong venting fan while you are cooking. Try frozen or chilled foods as they give off less odor.

    Suggestions for loss of appetite:

    1. If you aren't hungry at dinner time, make breakfast or lunch your main meal. Similarly, if you aren't hungry first thing in the morning, eat more later in the day.
    2. Eat more frequently, but smaller amounts of food.
    3. Keep snacks readily available, e.g. in your purse or in the car.
    4. Always make food look attractive with garnishes or with place settings.
    5. Experiment with tastes - you may find things you didn't like before you like now.
    6. Cold or room temperature foods may be more appealing.
    7. A glass of wine or beer may increase your appetite (check with your doctor first in case alcohol doesn't mix with a medication).
    8. Increase the caloric intake of the foods that you do eat with a small amount of "light" (less strongly flavored, not less calories) olive oil.
    9. Try some of the commercially prepared food supplements, e.g. Ensure, Sustacal or Polycose, available from most good pharmacies or drug stores. Add fresh berries or juice for variety and additional botanical factors.