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Eating Hints: Before, During, and After Cancer Treatment

  • Posted: 09/30/2009

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Eating Problems and Ways To Manage Them

Below is a list of eating problems that cancer treatment may cause. Not everyone gets every eating problem. Some people don’t have any problems. Which ones you might have will depend on the type and doses of treatment you receive and whether you have other health problems, such as diabetes or kidney or heart disease.

Talk with your doctor, nurse or dietitian about the eating problems on this list. Ask which ones might affect you. Follow the links to learn more.

On this page:


 Appetite Loss

What it is

Appetite loss is when you do not want to eat or do not feel like eating very much. It is a common problem that occurs with cancer and its treatment. You may have appetite loss for just 1 or 2 days, or throughout your course of treatment.

Why it happens

No one knows just what causes appetite loss. Reasons may include:

  • The cancer itself
  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • Feelings such as stress, fear, depression, and anxiety
  • Cancer treatment side effects such as nausea, vomiting, or changes in how foods taste or smell

Ways to manage with food

  • When it is hard to eat, drink a liquid or powdered meal replacement (such as “instant breakfast”).
  • Eat 5 or 6 small meals each day instead of 3 large meals. You may find it helps to eat smaller amounts at one time. This can also keep you from feeling too full.
  • Keep snacks nearby for when you feel like eating. Take easy-to-carry snacks such as peanut butter crackers, nuts, granola bars, or dried fruit when you go out. See more quick and easy snack ideas.
  • Add extra protein and calories to your diet. See ways to add protein and ways to add calories.
  • Drink liquids throughout the day—even when you do not want to eat. Choose liquids that add calories and other nutrients. These include juice, soup, and milk and soy-based drinks with protein. See the lists of clear liquids and full-liquid foods.
  • Eat a bedtime snack. This will give extra calories but won’t affect your appetite for the next meal.
  • Change the form of a food. For instance, you might make a fruit milkshake instead of eating a piece of fruit. Try the recipe for Banana Milkshake.
  • Eat soft, cool, or frozen foods. These include yogurt, milkshakes, and popsicles.
  • Eat larger meals when you feel well and are rested. For many people, this is in the morning after a good night’s sleep.
  • Sip only small amounts of liquids during meals. Many people feel too full if they eat and drink at the same time. If you want more than just small sips, have a larger drink at least 30 minutes before or after meals.

Other ways to manage

  • Talk with a dietitian. He or she can discuss ways to get enough calories and protein even when you do not feel like eating.
  • Try to have relaxed and pleasant meals. This includes being with people you enjoy as well as having foods that look good to eat.
  • Exercise. Being active can help improve your appetite. Studies show that many people with cancer feel better when they get some exercise each day.
  • Talk with your nurse or social worker if fear, depression, or other feelings affect your appetite or interest in food. He or she can suggest ways to help.
  • Tell your doctor if you are having nausea, vomiting, or changes in how foods taste or smell. Your doctor can help control these problems so that you feel more like eating.

To learn more about dealing with appetite loss, see the section about weight loss.

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 Changes in Sense of Taste or Smell

What it is

Food may have less taste or certain foods (like meat) may be bitter or taste like metal. Your sense of smell may also change. Sometimes, foods that used to smell good to you no longer do.

Why it happens

Cancer treatment, dental problems, or the cancer itself can cause changes in your sense of taste or smell. Although there is no way to prevent these problems, they often get much better after treatment ends.

Ways to manage with food

  • Choose foods that look and smell good. Avoid foods that do not appeal to you. For instance, if red meat (such as beef) tastes or smells strange, then try chicken or turkey.
  • Marinate foods. You can improve the flavor of meat, chicken, or fish by soaking it in a marinade. You can buy marinades in the grocery store or try fruit juices, wine, or salad dressing. While soaking food in a marinade, keep it in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook it.
  • Try tart foods and drinks. These include oranges and lemonade. Tart lemon custard might taste good and add extra protein and calories. But do not eat tart foods if you have a sore mouth or sore throat.
  • Make foods sweeter. If foods have a salty, bitter, or acid taste, adding sugar or sweetener to make them sweeter might help.
  • Add extra flavor to your foods. For instance, you might add bacon bits or onion to vegetables or use herbs like basil, oregano, and rosemary. Use barbecue sauce on meat and chicken.
  • Avoid foods and drinks with smells that bother you.
    Here are some ways to help reduce food smells:
    • Serve foods at room temperature
    • Keep foods covered
    • Use cups with lids (such as travel mugs)
    • Drink through a straw
    • Use a kitchen fan when cooking
    • Cook outdoors
    • When cooking, lift lids away from you
Eat with plastic forks and spoons if you have a metal taste in your mouth.

Other ways to manage

  • Talk with a dietitian. He or she can give you other ideas about how to manage changes in taste and smell.
  • Eat with plastic forks and spoons. If you have a metal taste in your mouth, eating with plastic forks and spoons can help. If you enjoy eating with chopsticks, those might help, too. Also, try cooking foods in glass pots and pans instead of metal ones.
  • Keep your mouth clean. Keeping your mouth clean by brushing and flossing can help food taste better.
  • Use special mouthwashes. Ask your dentist or doctor about mouthwashes that might help, as well as other ways to care for your mouth.
  • Go to the dentist. He or she can make sure that your changed sense of taste or smell is not from dental problems.
  • Talk with your doctor or nurse. Tell them about any changes in taste or smell and how these changes keep you from eating.

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 Constipation

What it is

Constipation occurs when bowel movements become less frequent and stools become hard, dry, and difficult to pass. You may have painful bowel movements, feel bloated, or have nausea. You may belch, pass a lot of gas, and have stomach cramps or pressure in the rectum.

Why it happens

Chemotherapy, the location of the cancer, pain medication, and other medicines can cause constipation. It can also happen when you do not drink enough liquids or do not eat enough fiber. Some people get constipation when they are not active.

Ways to manage with food

  • Drink plenty of liquids. Drink at least 8 cups of liquids each day. One cup is equal to 8 ounces. For ideas, see the list of clear liquids.
  • Drink hot liquids. Many people find that drinking warm or hot liquids (such as coffee, tea, and soup) can help relieve constipation. You might also try drinking hot liquids right after meals.
  • Eat high-fiber foods. These include whole grain breads and cereals, dried fruits, and cooked dried beans or peas. Try the recipe for Apple/Prune Sauce. For other ideas, see the list of high-fiber foods. People with certain types of cancer should not eat a lot of fiber, so check with your doctor before adding fiber to your diet.
Talk with your doctor before taking laxatives, stool softeners, or any medicine to relieve constipation.

Other ways to manage

  • Talk with a dietitian. He or she can suggest foods to help relieve constipation.
  • Keep a record of your bowel movements. Show this to your doctor or nurse and talk about what is normal for you. This record can be used to figure out whether you have constipation.
  • Be active each day. Being active can help prevent and relieve constipation. Talk with your doctor about how active you should be and what kind of exercise to do.
  • Let your doctor or nurse know if you have not had a bowel movement in 2 days. Your doctor may suggest a fiber supplement, laxative, stool softener, or enema. Do not use any of these without first asking your doctor or nurse.

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 Diarrhea

What it is

Diarrhea occurs when you have frequent bowel movements that may be soft, loose, or watery. Foods and liquids pass through the bowel so quickly that your body cannot absorb enough nutrition, vitamins, minerals, and water from them. This can cause dehydration (which occurs when your body has too little water). Diarrhea can be mild or severe and last a short or long time.

Why it happens

Diarrhea can be caused by cancer treatments such as radiation therapy to the abdomen or pelvis, chemotherapy, or biological therapy. These treatments cause diarrhea because they can harm healthy cells in the lining of your large and small bowel. Diarrhea can also be caused by infections, medicine used to treat constipation, or antibiotics.

Ways to manage with food

  • Drink plenty of fluids to replace those you lose from diarrhea. These include water, ginger ale, and sports drinks such as Gatorade® and Propel®. See the list of clear liquids for other ideas.
  • Let carbonated drinks lose their fizz before you drink them. Add extra water if drinks make you thirsty or they cause nausea.
  • Eat 5 or 6 small meals each day instead of 3 large meals.
  • Eat foods and liquids that are high in sodium and potassium. When you have diarrhea, your body loses these substances, and it is important to replace them. Liquids with sodium include bouillon or fat-free broth. Foods high in potassium include bananas, canned apricots, and baked, boiled, or mashed potatoes.
  • Eat low-fiber foods. Foods high in fiber can make diarrhea worse. Low-fiber foods include plain or vanilla yogurt, white toast, and white rice. See the list of more low-fiber foods.
  • Have foods and drinks at room temperature, neither too hot nor too cold.
  • Avoid foods or drinks that can make diarrhea worse. These include:
    • Foods high in fiber, such as whole wheat breads and pasta
    • Drinks that have a lot of sugar, such as regular soda and fruit punch
    • Very hot or very cold drinks
    • Greasy, fatty, or fried foods, such as French fries and hamburgers
    • Foods and drinks that can cause gas. These include cooked dried beans and raw fruits and vegetables.
    • Milk products, unless they are low-lactose or lactose-free
    • Beer, wine, and other types of alcohol
    • Spicy foods, such as pepper, hot sauce, salsa, and chili
    • Foods or drinks with caffeine. These include regular coffee, tea, some sodas, and chocolate.
    • Sugar-free products that are sweetened with xylitol or sorbitol. These are found mostly in sugar-free gums and candy. Read product labels to find out if they have these sweeteners in them.
    • Apple juice, since it is high in sorbitol
  • Drink only clear liquids for 12 to 14 hours after a sudden attack of diarrhea. This lets your bowels rest and helps replace lost fluids. Let your doctor know if you have sudden diarrhea.
Ask your doctor or nurse before taking medicine for diarrhea.

Other ways to manage

  • Talk with a dietitian. He or she can help you choose foods to prevent dehydration. The dietitian can also tell you which foods are good to eat and which ones to avoid when you have diarrhea.
  • Be gentle when wiping yourself after a bowel movement. Instead of toilet paper, clean yourself with wet wipes or squirt water from a spray bottle. Tell your doctor or nurse if your rectal area is sore or bleeds or if you have hemorrhoids.
  • Tell your doctor if you have had diarrhea for more than 24 hours. He or she also needs to know if you have pain and cramping. Your doctor may prescribe medicine to help control these problems. You may also need IV fluids to replace lost water and nutrients. This means you will receive the fluids through a needle inserted into a vein. Do not take medicine for diarrhea without first asking your doctor or nurse.

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 Dry Mouth

What it is

Dry mouth occurs when you have less saliva than you used to. This can make it harder to talk, chew, and swallow food. Dry mouth can also change the way food tastes.

Why it happens

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy to the head or neck area can damage the glands that make saliva. Biological therapy and some medicines can also cause dry mouth.

Ways to manage with food

  • Sip water throughout the day. This can help moisten your mouth, which can help you swallow and talk. Many people carry water bottles with them.
  • Have very sweet or tart foods and drinks (such as lemonade). These help you make more saliva. But do not eat or drink anything sweet or tart if you have a sore mouth or sore throat. It might make these problems worse.
  • Chew gum or suck on hard candy, popsicles, and ice chips. These help make saliva, which moistens your mouth. Choose sugar-free gum or candy since too much sugar can cause cavities in your teeth. If you also have diarrhea, check with your dietitian before using sugar-free products as some sweeteners can make it worse.
  • Eat foods that are easy to swallow. Try pureed cooked foods or soups. See the list of foods and drinks that are easy to chew and swallow.
  • Moisten food with sauce, gravy, or salad dressing. This helps make food easy to swallow.
  • Do not drink beer, wine, or any type of alcohol. These can make your mouth even drier.
  • Avoid foods that can hurt your mouth. This includes foods that are very spicy, sour, salty, hard, or crunchy.

Other ways to manage

  • Talk with a dietitian. He or she can discuss ways to eat even when a dry mouth makes it hard for you to chew.
  • Keep your lips moist with lip balm.
  • Rinse your mouth every 1 to 2 hours. Mix 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1/8 teaspoon salt with 1 cup warm water. Rinse with plain water after using this mixture.
  • Do not use mouthwash that has alcohol. Alcohol makes a dry mouth worse.
  • Do not use tobacco products, and avoid second-hand smoke. Tobacco products and smoke can hurt your mouth and throat.
  • Talk with your doctor or dentist. Ask about artificial saliva or other products to coat, protect, and moisten your mouth and throat. These products can help with severe dry mouth.

Ways to learn more

National Oral Health Information Clearinghouse

A service of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research that provides oral health information for special care patients. Ask about their booklets, Chemotherapy and Your Mouth Head and Neck Radiation Treatment and Your Mouth.

Call: 301-402-7364
Visit: http://www.nidcr.nih.gov
E-mail: nidcrinfo@mail.nih.gov

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 Lactose Intolerance

What it is

Lactose intolerance occurs when your body cannot digest or absorb a milk sugar called lactose. Lactose is in milk products such as cheese, ice cream, and pudding. Symptoms of lactose intolerance can be mild or severe and may include gas, cramps, and diarrhea. These symptoms may last for weeks or even months after treatment ends. Sometimes, lactose intolerance is a life-long problem.

Why it happens

Lactose intolerance can be caused by radiation therapy to the abdomen or pelvis or other treatments that affect the digestive system, such as surgery or antibiotics.

Ways to manage with food

  • Prepare your own low-lactose or lactose-free foods. You can find a sample recipe on the next page.
  • Choose lactose-free or low-lactose milk products. Most grocery stores have products (such as milk and ice cream) labeled “lactose-free” or “low-lactose.”
  • Try products made with soy or rice (such as soy or rice milk and ice cream). These products do not have any lactose. People with certain types of cancer may not be able to eat soy products. So, ask your dietitian if soy is safe for you to add to your diet.
  • Choose milk products that are low in lactose. Hard cheeses (such as cheddar) and yogurt are less likely to cause problems.

Other ways to manage

  • Talk with a dietitian. He or she can help you choose foods that are low in lactose.
  • Talk with your doctor. He or she may suggest medicine to help with lactose intolerance. These include lactase tablets. Lactase is a substance that breaks down lactose.

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 Nausea

What it is

Nausea occurs when you feel queasy or sick to your stomach. It may be followed by vomiting (throwing up), but not always. Nausea can keep you from getting the food and nutrients you need. Not everyone gets nausea and those who do may get it right after a treatment or up to 3 days later. Nausea almost always goes away once treatment ends.

Why it happens

Nausea can be a side effect of surgery, chemotherapy, biological therapy, and radiation therapy to the abdomen, small intestine, colon, or brain. It can also be caused by certain types of cancer or other illnesses.

Ways to manage with food

  • Eat foods that are easy on your stomach. These include white toast, plain or vanilla yogurt, and clear broth. Try lemon, lime, or other tart-flavored foods. See more ideas of foods that are easy on the stomach.
  • Eat 5 or 6 small meals each day instead of 3 large meals. Many people find it easier to eat smaller amounts, more often.
  • Do not skip meals and snacks. Even if you do not feel hungry, you should still eat. For many people, having an empty stomach makes nausea worse.
  • Choose foods that appeal to you. Do not force yourself to eat any food that makes you feel sick. At the same time, do not eat your favorite foods, so you don’t link them to feeling sick.
  • Sip only small amounts of liquids during meals. Many people feel full or bloated if they eat and drink at the same time.
  • Have liquids throughout the day. Drink slowly. Sip liquids through a straw. Or, drink from a water bottle.
  • Have foods and drinks that are not too hot and not too cold. Let hot foods and drinks cool down and cold foods and drinks warm up before you eat or drink them. You can cool hot foods and drinks by adding ice or warm up cold foods in a microwave.
  • Eat dry toast or crackers before getting out of bed if you have nausea in the morning.
  • Plan when it is best for you to eat and drink. Some people feel better when they eat a light meal or snack before treatment. Others feel better when they have treatment on an empty stomach (nothing to eat or drink for 2 to 3 hours before).
Be sure to tell your doctor or nurse if antinausea medicine does not help.

Other ways to manage

  • Talk with your doctor about medicine to prevent nausea (antiemetics or antinausea medicines). Be sure to tell your doctor or nurse if the medicines are not helping. If one medicine does not work well, your doctor may prescribe another. You may need to take them 1 hour before each treatment and for a few days after. The type of cancer treatment you get and how you react to it affects how long you need to take these medicines. Acupuncture may also help. Talk with your doctor or nurse if you want to try it.
  • Talk with a dietitian about ways to get enough to eat even if you have nausea.
  • Relax before each cancer treatment. You may feel better if you try deep breathing, meditation, or prayer. Many people relax with quiet activities such as reading or listening to music.
  • Rest after meals. But do so sitting up, not lying down.
  • Wear clothes that are comfortable and loose.Keep a record of when you feel nausea and why. Show this to your nurse, doctor, or dietitian. He or she might suggest ways to change your diet.
  • Avoid strong food and drink smells. These include foods that are being cooked, coffee, fish, onions, and garlic. Ask a friend or family member to cook for you to help avoid cooking smells.
  • Open a window or turn on a fan if your living area feels stuffy. Fresh air can help relieve nausea. Be sure not to eat in rooms that are too warm or stuffy.

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 Sore Mouth

What it is

Radiation therapy to the head or neck, chemotherapy, and biological therapy can cause mouth sores (little cuts or ulcers in your mouth) and tender gums. Dental problems or mouth infections, such as thrush, can also make your mouth sore.

Why it happens

Cancer treatments can harm the fast-growing cells in the lining of your mouth and lips. Your mouth and gums will most likely feel better once cancer treatment ends.

Ways to manage with food

  • Choose foods that are easy to chew. Certain foods can hurt a sore mouth and make it harder to chew and swallow. To help, choose soft foods such as milkshakes, scrambled eggs, and custards. Try the recipe for Fruit and Cream. For other ideas, see the list of foods and drinks that are easy to chew and swallow.
  • Cook foods until they are soft and tender.
  • Cut food into small pieces. You can also puree foods using a blender or food processor.
  • Drink with a straw. This can help push the drinks beyond the painful parts of your mouth.
  • Use a very small spoon (such as a baby spoon). This will help you take smaller bites, which may be easier to chew.
  • Eat cold or room-temperature food. Your mouth may hurt more if food is too hot.
  • Suck on ice chips. Ice may help numb and soothe your mouth.
  • Avoid certain foods and drinks when your mouth is sore.

    These include:

    • Citrus fruits and juices, such as oranges, lemons, and lemonade
    • Spicy foods, such as hot sauces, curry dishes, salsa, and chili peppers
    • Tomatoes and ketchup
    • Salty foods
    • Raw vegetables
    • Sharp, crunchy foods, such as granola, crackers, and potato and tortilla chips
    • Drinks that contain alcohol
If you have a sore mouth, do not use tobacco products or drink alcohol.

Other ways to manage

  • Talk with a dietitian. He or she can help you choose foods that are easy on a sore mouth.
  • Visit a dentist at least 2 weeks before starting biological therapy, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy to the head or neck. It is important to have a healthy mouth before starting cancer treatment. Try to get all needed dental work done before your treatment starts. If you can’t, ask your doctor or nurse when it will be safe to go to the dentist. Tell your dentist that you have cancer and the type of treatment you are getting.
  • Rinse your mouth 3 to 4 times a day. Mix 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1/8 teaspoon salt with 1 cup warm water. Rinse with plain water after using this mixture.
  • Check each day for any sores, white patches, or puffy and red areas in your mouth. This way, you can see or feel problems as soon as they start. Tell your doctor if you notice these changes.
  • Do not use items that can hurt or burn your mouth, such as:
    • Mouthwash with any alcohol in it
    • Toothpicks or other sharp objects
    • Cigarettes, cigars, or other tobacco products
    • Beer, wine, liquor, or other type of alcohol
  • Tell your doctor and dentist if your mouth or gums are sore. They can figure out whether these are from treatment or dental problems. Ask the dentist about special products to clean and soothe sore teeth and gums.
  • Ask your doctor about medicine for pain. He or she may suggest lozenges or sprays that numb your mouth while eating.

Ways to learn more

National Oral Health Information Clearinghouse

A service of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research that provides oral health information for special care patients. Ask about their booklets, Chemotherapy and Your Mouth and Head and Neck Radiation Treatment and Your Mouth.

Call: 301-402-7364
Visit: http://www.nidcr.nih.gov
E-mail: nidcrinfo@mail.nih.gov

Smokefree.gov

Provides resources, including information about tobacco quit lines, a step-by-step smoking cessation guide, and publications to help you or someone you care about quit smoking.

Call: 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848)
Visit: http://www.smokefree.gov

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 Sore Throat and Trouble Swallowing

What it is

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy to the head and neck can make the lining of your throat inflamed and sore (esophagitis). It may feel as if you have a lump in your throat or that your chest or throat is burning. You may also have trouble swallowing. These problems may make it hard to eat and cause weight loss.

Why it happens

Some types of chemotherapy and radiation to the head and neck can harm fast-growing cells, such as those in the lining of your throat. Your risk for a sore throat, trouble swallowing, or other throat problems depends on:

  • How much radiation you are getting
  • If you are getting chemotherapy and radiation therapy at the same time
  • Whether you use tobacco or drink alcohol during your course of cancer treatment

Ways to manage with food

  • Eat 5 or 6 small meals each day instead of 3 large meals. You may find it easier to eat a smaller amount of food at one time.
  • Choose foods that are easy to swallow. Some foods are hard to chew and swallow. To help, choose soft foods such as milkshakes, scrambled eggs, and cooked cereal. For other ideas, see the list of foods and drinks that are easy to chew and swallow.
  • Choose foods and drinks that are high in protein and calories. See the lists about ways to add protein and ways to add calories. If weight loss is a problem, see the section about weight loss.
  • Cook foods until they are soft and tender.
  • Cut food into small pieces. You can also puree foods using a blender or food processor.
  • Moisten and soften foods with gravy, sauces, broth, or yogurt.
  • Sip drinks through a straw. This may make them easier to swallow.
  • Do not eat or drink things that can burn or scrape your throat, such as:
    • Hot foods and drinks
    • Spicy foods
    • Foods and juices that are high in acid, such as tomatoes, oranges, and lemonade
    • Sharp, crunchy foods, such as potato and tortilla chips
    • Drinks that contain alcohol
Tell your doctor or nurse if you:
  • Have trouble swallowing
  • Feel as if you are choking
  • Cough while eating or drinking

Other ways to manage

  • Talk with a dietitian. He or she can help you choose foods that are easy to swallow.
  • Sit upright and bend your head slightly forward when eating or drinking. Stay sitting or standing upright for at least 30 minutes after eating.
  • Do not use tobacco products. These include cigarettes, pipes, cigars, and chewing tobacco. All of these can make your throat problems worse.
  • Think about tube feedings. Sometimes, you may not be able to eat enough to stay strong and a feeding tube may be a good option. Your doctor or dietitian will discuss this with you if he or she thinks it will help you.
  • Talk with your doctor or nurse. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have trouble swallowing, feel as if you are choking, cough while eating or drinking, or notice other throat problems. Also mention if you have pain or are losing weight. Your doctor may prescribe medicines to help relieve these symptoms. They include antacids and medicines to coat your throat and control your pain.

Ways to learn more

Smokefree.gov

Provides resources, including information about tobacco quit lines, a step-by-step smoking cessation guide, and publications to help you or someone you care about quit smoking.

Call: 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848)
Visit: http://www.smokefree.gov

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 Vomiting

What it is

Vomiting is another way to say “throwing up.”

Why it happens

Vomiting may follow nausea and be caused by cancer treatment, food odors, motion, an upset stomach, or bowel gas. Some people vomit when they are in places (such as hospitals) that remind them of cancer. Vomiting, like nausea, can happen right after treatment or 1 or 2 days later. You may also have dry heaves, which occur when your body tries to vomit even though your stomach is empty.

Biological therapy, some types of chemotherapy, and radiation therapy to the abdomen, small intestine, colon, or brain can cause nausea, vomiting, or both. Often, this happens because these treatments harm healthy cells in your digestive track.

Ways to manage with food

  • Do not have anything to eat or drink until your vomiting stops.
  • Once the vomiting stops, drink small amounts of clear liquids (such as water or bouillon). Be sure to start slowly and take little sips at a time. For other ideas, see the list of clear liquids.
  • Once you can drink clear liquids without vomiting, try full-liquid foods and drinks or those that are easy on your stomach. You can slowly add back solid foods when you start feeling better. See the lists of full-liquid foods and foods and drinks that are easy on the stomach.
  • Eat 5 or 6 small meals each day instead of 3 large meals. Once you start eating, it may be easier to eat smaller amounts at a time. Do not eat your favorite foods at first, so that you do not begin to dislike them.
Be sure to tell your doctor or nurse if your antinausea medicine is not helping.

Other ways to manage

  • Talk with a dietitian. He or she can suggest foods to eat once your vomiting stops.
  • Ask your doctor to prescribe medicine to prevent or control vomiting (antiemetics or antinausea medicines). Be sure to tell your doctor or nurse if the medicine is not helping. Your doctor may prescribe another. You may need to take these medicines 1 hour before each treatment and for a few days after. The type of cancer treatment you get and how you react to it affects how long you need to take these medicines. You may also want to talk with your doctor or nurse about acupuncture. It might also help.
  • Prevent nausea. One way to prevent vomiting is to prevent nausea. See the section on nausea to learn more.
  • Call your doctor if your vomiting is severe or lasts for more than 1 or 2 days. Vomiting can lead to dehydration (which occurs when your body does not have enough water). Your doctor needs to know if you cannot keep liquids down.

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 Weight Gain

What it is

Weight gain occurs when you have an increase in body weight. Many people with cancer think they will lose weight and are surprised, and sometimes upset, when they gain weight.

Why it happens

Weight gain can happen for many reasons:

  • People with certain types of cancer are more likely to gain weight.
  • Hormone therapy, certain types of chemotherapy, and medicines such as steroids can cause weight gain. These treatments can also cause your body to retain water, which makes you feel puffy and gain weight.
  • Some treatments can also increase your appetite so you feel hungry and eat more. You gain weight when you eat more calories than your body needs.
  • Cancer and its treatments can cause fatigue and changes in your schedule that may lead to a decrease in activity. Being less active can cause weight gain.
Do not go on a diet to lose weight before talking with your doctor about it. He or she will help figure out why you are gaining weight and discuss what you can do about it.

Ways to manage with food

  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. These are high in fiber and low in calories. They can help you feel full without adding a lot of calories.
  • Eat foods that are high in fiber, such as whole grain breads, cereals, and pasta. For more ideas, see the list of high-fiber foods. People with certain types of cancer should not eat a lot of fiber, so check with your doctor before adding fiber to your diet.
  • Choose lean meats, such as lean beef, pork trimmed of fat, or poultry without skin. These include low-fat or non-fat yogurt and skim or 1% milk.
  • Eat less fat. Eat only small amounts of butter, mayonnaise, desserts, fried foods, and other high-calorie foods.
  • Cook with low-fat methods, such as broiling, steaming, grilling, or roasting.
  • Eat small portion sizes. When you eat out, take half of your meal home to eat later.
  • Eat less salt. This helps you not retain water if your weight gain is from fluid retention.

Other ways to manage

  • Talk with a dietitian. He or she can discuss ways to limit the amount of salt you eat if your weight gain is from fluid retention. A dietitian can also help you choose healthy foods and make healthy changes to your favorite recipes.
  • Exercise each day. Not only does exercise help you burn calories, but studies show that it helps people with cancer feel better. Talk with your doctor or nurse about how much exercise to do while having cancer treatment.
  • Talk with your doctor before going on a diet to lose weight. He or she can help figure out why you are gaining weight and prescribe medicine (called a diuretic) if you have fluid retention.

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 Weight Loss

What it is

Weight loss is when you have a decrease in body weight.

Why it happens

Weight loss can be caused by cancer itself, or by side effects of cancer treatment, such as nausea and vomiting. Stress and worry can also cause weight loss. Many people with cancer have weight loss during treatment.

Ways to manage with food

  • Eat when it is time to eat, rather than waiting until you feel hungry. You still need to eat even if you do not feel hungry while being treated for cancer.
  • Eat 5 or 6 small meals each day instead of 3 large meals. You may find it easier to eat smaller amounts at one time.
  • Eat foods that are high in protein and calories. You can also add protein and calories to other foods. Try the recipe for Peanut Butter Snack Spread. For other ideas, see the lists of how to add protein and how to add calories.
  • Drink milkshakes, smoothies, juices, or soups if you do not feel like eating solid foods. These can provide the protein, vitamins, and calories your body needs. Try the recipe for the High-Protein Milkshake. For other ideas, see the list of full-liquid foods.
  • Cook with protein-fortified milk. You can use protein-fortified milk (instead of regular milk) when cooking foods such as macaroni and cheese, pudding, cream sauce, mashed potatoes, cocoa, soups, or pancakes. See the recipe for Protein-Fortified Milk.

Other ways to manage

  • Talk with a dietitian. He or she can give you ideas about how to maintain or regain your weight. This includes choosing foods that are high in protein and calories and adapting your favorite recipes.
  • Be as active as you can. You might have more appetite if you take a short walk or do other light exercise. Studies show that many people with cancer feel better when they exercise each day.
  • Think about tube feedings. Sometimes, you may not be able to eat enough to stay strong and a feeding tube may be a good option. Your doctor or dietitian will discuss this with you if he or she thinks it will help you.
  • Tell your doctor if you are having eating problems, such as nausea, vomiting, or changes in how foods taste and smell. He or she can help control these so you can eat better.

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