Cancer Treatment: Pre-Treatment Eating Tips

When your cancer was first diagnosed, your doctor talked to you about a treatment plan. This may have involved surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and biologic immunotherapy or some combination of those treatments.

All of these methods of treating cancer kill cells. In the process of killing the cancer cells, some healthy cells are also damaged. That is what causes the side effects of cancer treatment. Side effects that can affect your ability to eat include:

  • loss of appetite
  • changes in weight (either losing or gaining weight)
  • sore mouth or throat dry mouth
  • dental and gum problems
  • changes in sense of taste or smell
  • nausea/vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • lactose intolerance
  • constipation
  • fatigue and/or depression

You may or may not have any of these side effects. Many factors determine whether you will have any and how severe they will be. These factors include the type of cancer you have, the part of your body being treated, the type and length of treatment, and the dose of treatment. The good news is that if you do have side effects they can often be well-controlled. Most side effects also go away after treatment ends. Your doctor or nurse can tell you more about your chances of having side effects and what they might be like.

Nutrition Recommendations Can Be Different for Cancer Patients 

Recommendations about food and eating for cancer patients can be very different from the usual suggestions for healthful eating. This can be confusing for many patients because these new suggestions may seem to be the opposite of what they've always heard. Nutrition recommendations usually stress eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain breads and cereals; including a moderate amount of meat and dairy products; and cutting back on fat, sugar, alcohol, and salt. Nutrition recommendations for cancer patients may focus on helping you eat more higher calorie foods that emphasize protein. Recommendations might include eating or drinking more milk (read our Fortified Milk recipe), cream, cheese, and cooked eggs. Other suggestions might include increasing your use of sauces and gravies, or changing your cooking methods to include more butter, margarine, or oil. Sometimes, nutrition recommendations for cancer patients suggest that you eat less of certain high- fiber foods because these foods can aggravate problems such as diarrhea or a sore mouth.

Nutrition recommendations for cancer patients are different because they are designed to help build up your strength and help you withstand the effects of your cancer and its treatment. When you are healthy, eating enough food to get the nutrients you need is usually not a problem. During cancer treatment, however, this can become a challenge, especially if you have side effects or simply don't feel well.

For more, please visit Cancer Center.

Portions of the above information has been provided with the kind permission of the National Cancer Institute (

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Last Editorial Review: 7/7/2004