Nutrition for Cancer Patients – The Afternoon Show

It is important to note that the information below is general, every individual has different treatments and will react to them in differecnt ways. Hopefully there are a few helpful hints below to help…

The key nutritional aims for any cancer patient are to maintain their weight and meet nutritional requirements and maintain adequate nutritional status. There are various factors that can affect your nutritional status including the underlying disease, previous treatment, the type of treatment therapy, the use of steroids, pain medications, nausea and bowel problems. Every cancer and treatment can be different but below are some of the common nutritional issues.

Coping with Nausea

Nausea with or without vomiting is one of the most common complaints among cancer patients. Some describe this as similar to morning sickness and feel the need to eat to overcome the nausea. Others find the sight, smell or thought of food will make them feel unwell. Management of nausea and vomiting depends on the severity of the symptoms. There are many medications now that can help combat nausea but if you suffer from it there are a few dietary things that you can try.

Milder cases can often be treated by consuming small meals frequently, avoiding offensive odors, drinking enough fluids, and getting fresh air. Some tolerate foods high in carbohydrate such as crackers better than high-protein or high-fat foods. In more serious cases of nausea, little and often is the best approach. Cold fluids are often easier to tolerate than foods so drinks of a high calorific value are beneficial.


Infrequent or hard, dry stools may occur as a side effect of medications. To alleviate symptoms you need to;

 Increase the amount of soluble fibre in the diet i.e. fruit & vegetables, pulses, oats and seeds
(particularly linseed).
 Try to have porridge or oat based cereal for breakfast.
 Ensure adequate fluid intake.
 Drink a probiotic yogurt drink. The probiotics help to regulate the rhythm of the bowel

Coping with weight changes

For patients who lose weight it is important to encourage them to eat little and often. It can be easier to drink fluids than chew food if you are suffering from nausea so soups and drinks that have a calorific value are beneficial. The best idea is to increase the nutritional density of the food instead of trying to increase the volume of food. Try adding skimmed milk powder to a soups, sauces or casseroles. Another good idea is to add 2 tablespoons of skimmed milk powder to your milk which will increase the protein and calorie content of it and then use that milk for everything throughout the day.

Yogurts, rice- puddings, custard and stewed fruit are all great nutritional ways of increasing your intake and they won’t fill you up to much between meals. If struggling with weight loss try to eat every 3 hours and avoid taking in too many empty calorie foods. There are nutritional supplements which can be recommended by your dietitian or doctor. If concerned about your weight loss, ask to see a dietitian.

For patients who gain weight during treatment it is important to reassure them that they should not restrict their calorie intake at this time and they can lose weight once all treatments have finished.

Whether a patient loses or gains weight it can be very sensitive and difficult issue for the individual. It is important that a patient knows that they can be referred to see a dietitian if they are very concerned.

The use of vitamin supplements in cancer patients can indeed be very beneficial but some consultants rather that patients do not take them during chemotherapy treatments. I would always encourage the patient to discuss this issue with their physician. The main concern over taking vitamins while undergoing treatment is possible drug interactions. Once treatments are completed it can be a good idea to take a multivitamin to help build up nutritional stores again.