Cancer and Nutrition

Nutrition is an important part of staying healthy during cancer treatment. WhatNexters who have tried to eat the right foods before, during, and after treatment have said that they felt better and stronger. Not everyone experiences nutrition-related side effects with cancer, but cancer treatments may affect appetite and the body’s ability to tolerate certain foods and use nutrients to keep your body running properly. This guide is not a replacement for the advice of a medical professional, but it includes some tips that may help you.


“I try to eat right, exercise, see how I do and discuss any difficulties I am having with my oncologist.” - rmr thumbnail RMR, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Stage I

WhatNexter’s recommend reading the American Cancer Society’s Guide to Nutrition. It covers the benefits of good nutrition, which foods to eat for optimal nutrition, how nutrition affects cancer treatment, how you can make plans to stay healthy before, during, and after cancer treatment, a diet for the weakened immune system, and how to cope with common eating problems.

Benefits of Good Nutrition

Nutrition needs vary from person to person with cancer. Eating well could help you feel better, keep your strength and energy up, handle treatment side effects, and recover more quickly. It is best to talk to your doctor, nurses, or a registered dietitian. Many cancer centers have an accessible dietitian on staff; ask your doctor about options available in your place of treatment.

Nutrition-Related Side Effects of Cancer Treatment

Your type of cancer, treatment plan, and side effects can all affect your nutrition needs during cancer treatment. Some of these side effects include loss of appetite, dry mouth, dental problems, changes in taste, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, and depression. If you have any nutrition related side effects, talk to your doctor about what you can do to relieve them during treatment.

Talking to Your Doctor about Your Main Nutrition Goals

The American Cancer Society outlines five main nutrition goals during cancer treatment in their Guide to Lifestyle Changes that Make a Difference. You should talk to your doctor about these goals as it to relates to your specific nutrition status. The five goals include:

  • To make sure your body’s nutrient and calorie needs are met
  • To maintain a healthy weight
  • To avoid losing muscle mass
  • To make sure that any nutrition-related side effects are being prevented or managed as best they can
  • To improve the quality of your life as you go through treatment

Making the Decision to Eat Healthy

You may not know exactly which side effects you will experience during cancer treatment. One of the first steps can be deciding that you are going to make the effort to eat healthy during treatment. If you make plans now, then they may be easier to implement when you are going through treatment.

“I tried not to consider myself on a ‘diet’. I made changes to my eating and exercise habits that I intend to keep for a lifetime. Writing down what you eat is a great habit.” - BoiseB, Esophagus Cancer, Stage III

Keeping Track of What You Eat

Some WhatNexters find that keeping a food diary or journal helps them to track what they have eaten and their reaction to different foods. Writing it down can help you realize what foods are affecting your body and the way you feel.

“I spoke with my oncology team about their recommendations to mitigate my side effects. I also kept track of what I was eating in a food diary.” -- SueRae1, Kidney Cancer, Stage IV

Nutrition Suggestions during Chemotherapy

Some WhatNexters experience nutrition-related side effects when going through treatment. The American Cancer Society has suggestions for eating well during treatment.

A lot of WhatNexters have connected based on their own nutrition challenges or victories. To connect with others that may be experiencing the same troubles with their diet, visit WhatNext’s Experience Pages on nutrition or watch videos from WhatNexter’s that provide insight about their firsthand experiences. What are some things that have helped you stay healthy before, during, and after treatment?

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    • ajeanWV63's Avatar

      My health journey. I did a complete inventory of kitchen cabinets and threw out all the junk foods and high fructose items, and was shocked how bare the cabinets became, and how much I needed to replace! I switched to totally filtered water, and use a filter on my shower head as well to block chlorine from entering pores during a shower. I changed my diet to exclude sprayed veggies on the dirty dozen list that are most expected to absorb chemical pesticides. I buy these organic only, and still thoroughly wash. I eat a lot more fresh fruits and vegetables, and some veggies I buy frozen due to cost, but NO canned goods! I drink lots of filtered water, and no pop whatsoever! I like using Vitamin water that has no additives or sugars. I read everything I buy in the supermarket to exclude high fructose corn syrup, which was a real pain at first, now i only need to review anything new I purchase. I do not buy any ready made mixes that have too many additives. I cook with only unbleached flour and organic eggs and butter.Also I use olive oil to cook with. No frying, mostly baking. I make a good serving of fat free cottage cheese mixed with certified, cold pressed organic flax seed oil for lunch every day. this supplies heart healthy Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids for the body to use. I love organic salads! I have bought a few times a year green drinks that are raw dried organic and mix with cold filtered water as directed. I have started back to work in a low stress position, for continued body exercise and movement. I hope with all these adjustments to stay in remission from my stage 3 high grade ovarian cancer. I have tons of energy, although the cancer left me scarred and took a full year to recover to where I feel I can now resume all activities other than heavy lifting or extreme sports, of course! I recently moved from an apartment when the person accoss the hall's heavy smoking was coming through all the cracks around my door. I bought an air filter machine, and put tape around the cracks until i could move, which was very expensive and physically draining, but I was determined to stay healthy. I now live in a stand alone duplex where I can control the envirnoment. What you are willing to give up and adjust in your life all has a part in remission and continued health, I feel. I am thankful for what God has done to save my life and pray a prayer of thanksgiving every night.

      about 8 years ago
    • Artgirl808's Avatar

      Thank you for sharing your health journey ajeanWV63. Your kitchen journey closely reflects mine. But I notice you have been much more diligent with buying organics (I do buy organics, but much of what I have around me is limited and very, very expensive where available for the most part) and cleaning your fruits and veggies. Where do you buy your green drinks from and what is the specific type/brand you get? Did you cut out all meats? If you have meats, how often and what kinds? What types of exercise do you do? It was interesting to hear that you bought a filter for your shower water as well. Where did you get yours? Again, thank you so much for sharing. I feel better knowing that I have done much of what you have - it provided me with much needed validation.

      almost 8 years ago