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Updated on June 25, 2020

Diet Advice for patients undergoing cancer treatment: General principles

When you have cancer, you need to eat to keep up your strength to deal with the effects of both the cancer and the treatment. Eating a normal healthy diet becomes a challenge because you will

  • Need extra protein and calories
  • Have trouble chewing or swallowing
  • Lose your appetite or have loss of taste
  • Experience either constipation or diarrhoea
  • Develop nausea or vomiting

Getting ready for cancer treatment

There is no way to know all the side effects you will get because everyone is different. It also depends on the type and stage of cancer you have, location of the cancer, what type of treatment you will receive and for how long.  Most side effects of cancer treatment can be controlled and will go away when you have finished all the cycles of treatment.  Nonetheless it is good to prepare your body in good shape beforehand.

  • Start to eat a healthy diet and aim to achieve your optimum weight for your height (ideal BMI) before your treatment starts. This will help you stay strong, lower your risk for infection, cope with side effects better and have a greater chance of finishing all your treatment cycles
  • See your dentist for a check up or dental treatment (if required) before you start cancer treatment.  This will help reduce complications with your chewing later on
  • Plan your nutritional needs with a dietician and also learn what to expect during your cancer treatment.  Learn to take charge of your life.

Click to view American Cancer Society video on Eating well during Treatment

General principles for eating during cancer treatment

  • Eat plenty of protein and calories to keep up your strength and help rebuild your muscles
  • Eat your favourite foods because your taste will change during your cancer treatment
  • Try to eat small meals throughout the day (like 4-6 times a day) rather than 3 big meals a day
  • Do not worry if you cannot eat much.  Do not force yourself
  • Take the opportunity to eat more when your appetite is good.  When you have no appetite, take liquid meal replacements.  Ask your dietician to help you calculate your requirements
  • Drink plenty of liquids. It is very important to stay hydrated on days when you cannot eat. Adults should drink between 8 to 12 cups of liquid a day. Keep a water bottle near you at all times

Take special care with foods

During your treatment, your immune system will be low and you will be prone to infection.  Here are some tips on food care

  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating
  • Wash your hands, knives, and counter tops before and after you prepare food
  • Wash your hands each time you touch raw meat or fish
  • Use one cutting board for meat and another one for fruits and vegetables
  • Cook meat and eggs thoroughly

Foods to avoid

  • Raw fish such as sushi or sashimi and uncooked oysters
  • Raw nuts or meat
  • Foods or drinks that are past their sell by date
  • Salad or raw vegetables not prepared by you
  • Foods with mould such as blue cheeses
  • Perishable foods that have been sitting at room temperature longer than 2 hours
  • Leftovers that have been in the refrigerator longer than 3 days
  • Avoid foods with sharp edges which may hurt your gums and cause ulcers

Eating well is important because it helps your body fight the cancer.  Speak to a dietician or nutritionist to help you with your diet during your cancer journey. 

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Disclaimer. TELEME blog posts contains general information about health conditions and treatments. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The information is not advice and should not be treated as such. 

If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention from your doctor or other professional healthcare providers. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information on this website.

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