Chemotherapy can help treat cancer, but it can also have many side effects. It is very common to have problems eating. Here are some tips to eat healthy during treatment.
Chemotherapy targets and destroys rapidly dividing cancer cells. But other cells divide quickly too, such as the ones that line the digestive tract. This can make it hard for a person to eat when they are being treated. Some problems may be:
A person with cancer needs to eat well to recover. Getting enough calories and nutrients can help:
It can be hard for a person to eat when they are being treated. They will need to eat smaller meals more often. Choosing foods that are easy to eat can help. Do not eat fatty, greasy, or spicy foods that are harder to digest. Plenty of water will also be needed.
Increasing calories is also important. This is a good time to ignore the rules about what to eat and when. Now is a good time to try new foods or one that may not have been liked in the past. Something that may not have been liked before may now be pure heaven.
Most medicines cause lack of hunger. This can range from mild to severe. It can also lead to nutrition problems. It will not last long. A person with cancer should feel hungry again when treatment is done. Try these tips until then:
Nausea and vomiting are common problems during treatment. Medicines can help. They can be used before symptoms happen.
To manage this side effect:
A dietitian can help a person plan meals that have enough calories and still ease nausea and vomiting.
Cancer treatment weakens the immune system. Take these steps to lower the risk of foodborne illnesses:
Doctors and dietitians are there to help a person with cancer put these and other tips into practice. It is possible to eat healthy during treatment.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
Canadian Cancer Society
Cancer Care Ontario
Chemotherapy and diet. Eat Right—American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Available at: https://www.eatright.org/health/diseases-and-conditions/cancer/chemotherapy-and-diet. Accessed August 26, 2020.
Hesketh PJ. Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. N Engl J Med. 2008 Jun 5;358(23):2482-2494.
Nutrition for people with cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/survivorship-during-and-after-treatment/staying-active/nutrition.html. Accessed August 26, 2020.
Nutrition in cancer care (PDQ). National Cancer Institute website. Available at:
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Accessed August 26, 2020.
Toxicities of chemotherapeutic agents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/drug-review/toxicities-of-chemotherapeutic-agents. Accessed August 26, 2020.
Last reviewed March 2020 by
EBSCO Medical Review BoardDianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN
Last Updated: 2/3/2021