Learning About Nutrition During Cancer Treatment

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What is healthy eating when you have cancer?

Eating well when you have cancer means eating foods that help your body stay strong. Cancer and cancer treatments can make it harder for your body to get what it needs from food. So choose a variety of foods that provide good nutrients, including colorful fruits and vegetables.

Why can it be hard to eat during cancer treatment?

You may find it hard to eat during treatment for cancer because:

  • You may have problems with side effects from your treatment. It can change how your body handles food. You may have nausea, vomiting, or mouth sores.
  • You may have a dry or sore mouth or trouble swallowing after radiation treatments to your head or neck.
  • Foods may taste different.
  • You may not feel like eating if you are tired, depressed, or anxious.

Some people eat well during most of their cancer treatment. Others may have days when they don't feel like eating at all. Even the thought of food may make them feel sick.

How can you keep eating well during treatment?

  • Eat food that has protein and extra calories.

    This can help you keep your strength and prevent weight loss. Try a liquid meal replacement such as Ensure or Boost for extra calories and protein. Smoothies or shakes are a good choice too.

  • Try having your main meal of the day early.

    Your appetite may be better early in the day. Or you may find it easier to eat smaller meals more often, instead of three large meals.

  • Ask someone to cook for you.

    You may feel more like eating if you don't cook your own foods.

  • Drink plenty of fluids.

    Drink when you don't feel like eating. Carry a water bottle with you during the day.

  • Don't worry too much if you have a day when you can't eat at all.

    Do what you can to make yourself feel better. And start eating as soon as you feel better. Be sure to tell your doctor if you still can't eat after 1 or 2 days.

  • Be prepared to try new ways of eating or new foods.

    Good eating habits for people who have cancer may be different from other healthy eating guidelines. Go to the National Cancer Institute website at www.cancer.gov to find more information about nutrition.

If you have serious problems eating, you may need to get nutrition and fluids another way. This can be done through intravenous (I.V.) fluids or through a feeding tube.

Who can help you eat well when you have cancer?

You can get support and learn how to eat well from a registered dietitian or a dietitian who works in cancer care. Or work with another member of your care team. A dietitian can help you plan meals and find foods and drinks that you like and can eat.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.