Appetite Changes

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:

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

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.

Get Support

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

Call

Speak to a National Cancer Institute health information specialist by calling 1-800-4-Cancer.

Chat

The National Cancer Institute offers live, online assistance through its LiveHelp service.

ACS National Cancer Information Center

Get Tips

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.

Chat

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.

Learn More About Appetite Changes

The National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society have additional resources to help you, including appetite loss and appetite changes.