What to Eat While Going Through Cancer Treatment

3 min read

What to Eat While Going Through Cancer Treatment

What you eat while going through cancer treatment is often a bit different from a typical diet. Partly this is because of the different side effects patients experience before, during, and after cancer treatments. Food many not sound enticing, or the nausea brought on by treatment could make it especially hard to eat regularly. Additionally some patients undergoing cancer treatments report less saliva in their mouths, also called dry-mouth, that can make it unpleasant to eat. However, it's still really important that patients take in the right amount of calories so they can keep up their strength and avoid dropping to an unhealthy weight.

What You Can Do To Eat Enough

  • Eat protein whenever you can to help you maintain your strength and rebuild tissue during your cancer treatments. This might include nuts, yogurt, cheese, or eggs.
  • The American Cancer Society suggests eating at least 2.5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day, including citrus fruits and dark-green and deep-yellow vegetables. Colorful vegetables and fruits and plant-based foods contain many natural health-promoting substances.
  • Be sure to eat when you're hungry. Many cancer patients find they're most hungry in the morning.
  • Use liquid meal replacements. This is especially helpful if you have dry mouth.
  • If you find that it's hard to eat a larger meal, try eating smaller meals more often. This can also help keep nausea away.
  • If you find that some of your favorite foods don't taste quite right during cancer treatment, that's OK. Eat healthy foods that taste good and make sure to keep them stocked up in the house.
  • If you're on the go, take snacks with you since you're not sure if the food where you' will be at will be something you can eat.

Try to choose from healthy sources of fat including avocado, olive oil and nuts and fish such as salmon. Stay away from trans fats and foods high in cholesterol, such as processed snacks, fast food and shortening.

It may also be helpful to have a family member or friend who is willing to cook for you or prepare food that sounds good to you each day. We encourage them to visit with or call to talk to our dietitian who specializes in cancer patient diets. She can answer questions about what may be best for you.

If possible have some meals in the freezer that are portioned and easy to warm up. Or find foods that you like that don't require much or any preparation so you can eat quickly when you feel hungry.

Things to Avoid During Cancer Treatment


You be tempted to include vitamin or herbal supplements, but they have potential for interacting with your cancer treatment medicines. Talk to your oncology care team about this before taking any supplements.

Uncooked or undercooked meats

This is because your body is more prone to infection during cancer treatment. Cooking meats and fish thoroughly will reduce the likelihood of bacteria entering your body.

Salad bars or buffets

Avoid these types of restaurants during cancer treatment since there is a higher likelihood of bacteria being passed from one guest to another with the food in open spaces.

Be sure to wash all raw vegetables very carefully to reduce bacteria and eat them mostly at home if possible.

Keep in mind that everyone's nutritional needs will vary during cancer treatment. Always consult your oncologist or our oncology-specialized dietitian about your diet before making any changes. If you located in the Portland-Vancouver area and would like more information about diet and nutrition during cancer treatment our Portland area dietitian is available to assist. Visit CompassOncology.com to find a location that is most convenient to you and arrange an appointment.

For additional information visit our PDF Eating Hints: Before, During, and After Treatment. It’s full of tips to address common eating problems that arise during cancer treatment, including appetite loss, nausea, and dealing with a sore throat or mouth.