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Make a Difference in Your Cancer Treatment with Good Nutrition
      A diagnosis of cancer makes good nutrition more important than ever.  Healthful eating can make a big difference during your cancer treatment and recovery by helping your body to heal and better withstand the side effects of cancer therapy....
Table of Contents:


Types of treatment that may influence your appetite and ability to eat

What to eat during cancer treatment 

What to eat after cancer treatment

Side effects of cancer treatment that can affect the way you eat and strategies to overcome them

Eating enough when you don’t feel like eating at all

Strategies for increasing protein and calories

Tips for making meal planning and preparation as easy as possible


A healthful diet helps rebuild body tissues that may be affected by treatment and prevents them from further breakdown.Eating right also keeps your body strong by helping your immune system stay healthy.

During your treatment and recovery, you can help your body to feel its best by giving it the nutrients it needs.  One key nutrient that you will need more of during this time is protein.  Protein is directly involved in the recovery process, helping your body to heal, rebuild, and fight infection.  It is found in foods like meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products.  To keep up your energy, include plenty of foods that contain another vital nutrient, carbohydrates.  Good sources of carbohydrates include fruit, vegetables, and grains.  Eating enough fat is also important now.  Fat, found in foods like oils, butter, margarine, nuts and seeds, serves as a long term energy source.  It also makes foods taste good and keeps us feeling full.  And be sure not to forget one of the most important nutrients that your body needs – water, to prevent dehydration and help your body rid itself of waste products that may build up during treatment.

The best diet right now is a well balanced one that is high in calories and contains a variety of foods from all of the food groups, specifically: protein, grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables.  This ensures that your body will get all of the building blocks it needs for recovery.  Eating frequently throughout the day can help you to keep your energy level up.  If you find that certain foods don’t agree with you, just eat what you can keep down.

If you are taking any vitamin and herbal supplements, be sure to mention this to your doctor.  While extra vitamins or herbal treatments may sound like a good idea, they may cause more harm than good.  In fact, certain supplements can actually interfere with your cancer treatment.

Types of treatment that may influence your appetite and ability to eat:

Radiation therapy may affect both your interest in eating and your ability to eat.  Treatment to the head, neck, and chest can cause mouth sores, dry mouth, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, and dental problems.  You may also experience changes in your sense of taste, known as “mouth blindness” that can decrease your appetite resulting in weight loss.  Radiation to the abdomen may cause nausea, vomiting, pain, diarrhea, and gas in the early stages and weight loss and swelling in the later phases. 

Chemotherapy, which works by destroying cancer cells, can also damage healthy cells and tissues.  This can affect parts of the body that are involved in eating, causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, sore mouth and throat, mouth blindness, constipation, and weight gain due to fluid retention.

Surgery puts a tremendous strain on your body, requiring extra nutrients and calories for healing.  After surgery, certain parts of the body that are involved in digestion such as the mouth, throat, and stomach may not be working properly or may be sore.

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AUTHOR: Karen Ansel, MS, RD
The Cancer Information Network 
Date Modified: 04/20/02

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