Having cancer and getting treated for cancer can cause appetite changes that make you less able and less motivated to eat well. Eating the right kinds of foods before, during, and after cancer treatment may help you feel better and stay stronger.
Being nourished during treatment can help you cope emotionally and physically with cancer and its treatments.
Understand Your Appetite Changes
Cancer and cancer treatments may affect taste, smell, appetite, and the ability to eat enough food or absorb the nutrients from food.
Symptoms That Affect Your Appetite
Several symptoms or side effects of cancer or cancer treatment affect appetite, including:
- Loss of the desire to eat
- Taste changes
- Dry mouth
- Swallowing problems
- Mouth sores and infections
- Liver disease, kidney disease, heart failure
- Dehydration (lack of fluid)
Nutrition During Treatment
Malnutrition (a condition caused by a lack of key nutrients) can cause you to be weak, tired, and less able to fight infections. If you’re having problems eating, these tips can help you get the nutrition you need.
Staying Healthy When Treatment Starts
- Work with your cancer care team to plan meals that meet your nutrition needs and tastes in food.
- Eat foods recommended by your cancer care team. For example, a nutritionist may recommend foods that are high in calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals.
- Ask your caregiver for help:
- Eating 6 to 8 small meals and snacks each day, instead of 3 full meals.
- Keeping cool drinks and juices within reach.
- Serving bland foods that are cold or at room temperature, if the smell of food bothers you.
- Creating pleasant settings for meals, and eating with you.
- Offering fruit smoothies, milkshakes, or liquid meals when you don’t want to eat.
- Learn more about treating the symptoms of appetite loss.
- Check out these additional resources to help you cope with the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment that might change how you eat.
Coping with Common Eating Problems
Dealing with Poor Appetite
- Discuss your poor appetite with your cancer care team.
- Keep in mind that food is an important part of your cancer treatment.
- Eat as much as you can, but don’t make yourself eat.
- Be sure to eat breakfast.
- Try eating small meals throughout the day.
- Avoid low-fat foods if possible. And add fat to meals with ingredients like butter and oil to increase calories.
- Add tasty spices to food to make them more appetizing.
- Eat your meals in a nice space with other people around to distract you, if possible.
- Don’t drink fluids during your meal; it may make you feel more full. Instead, drink in between meals.
- Go for a walk or try other light exercise before a meal.
Dealing with Trouble Swallowing
- Eat soft or liquid foods that are high in calories and easy to swallow, like milkshakes, yogurt, and soup.
- Cut your food into small pieces and add sauce or gravy.
- Find more tips from the American Cancer Society on how to deal with eating problems.
For more detailed information on support options, visit Get Support.
Talk to Your Health Care Team
Your health care team needs to know how you’re doing. Be sure to tell them about any changes you notice.
Talk to Family and Friends
Your loved ones want to support you. They can help with activities like housework, running errands, and getting to appointments. Be as specific as possible about the kind of help you need.
Find Peer Support
Talk About Your Concerns
Peer groups offer a welcoming environment to share your feelings and experiences with people who are going through the same things. Use the American Cancer Society’s Resource Search to find a peer group in your area or call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 for personalized assistance.
Visit the Cancer Survivors Network Online
The Cancer Survivors Network is an online community with more than 40 discussion boards where cancer survivors share their cancer-related experiences, support one another, and exchange practical tips.
NCI Cancer Information Service
Speak to a National Cancer Institute health information specialist by calling 1-800-4-Cancer.
The National Cancer Institute offers live, online assistance through its LiveHelp service.
ACS National Cancer Information Center
Get information and tips from a cancer information specialist at the American Cancer Society by calling 1-800-227-2345. Lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The American Cancer Society offers live, online assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Select the Live Chat option from any page on cancer.org.