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Common Nutrition-Related Side Effects of Cancer Treatment

Cancer and cancer treatment can cause a variety of nutrition related side effects.  Many of these can be managed with the proper nutrition including changes in diet, food selection, and preparation techniques   A Registered Dietitian who specializes in oncology nutrition (CSO) can recommend foods, beverages, meal plans and supplements that will provide adequate nutrients and calories for your specific metabolic and caloric needs and help manage nutrition impact symptoms through diet.


 Cancer and Loss of Appetite

Changes in appetite are common with cancer and cancer treatment. People with appetite loss may eat less than usual, not feel hungry at all, or feel full after eating only a small amount. Although you may not feel like eating, keep in mind that getting adequate nutrition and maintaining a healthy weight are important parts of your recovery. Take advantage of the times when you have the most appetite and try to consume small frequent meals and snacks throughout the day.  Eat in enjoyable surroundings, and make meals look less overwhelming by placing them on smaller plates rather than larger plates. 


Cancer and Nausea/Vomiting 

Nausea is sometimes described as an unsettling or queasy feeling in the stomach and can be experienced with or without vomiting. Having an empty stomach may make nausea and vomiting worse, so be sure to eat regular meals and snacks. Eat small frequent meals (5-6 times a day) instead of 3 large meals, and avoid greasy, spicy foods and food with strong odors. Eat foods such as crackers, toast, broth that may be easier on your stomach. Try ginger teas, ginger candies, ginger snaps/cookies, or ginger root in soups. 


Cancer and Constipation

Constipation can be caused by certain chemotherapies, nausea and pain medications, as well as a change in diet or a decrease in your usual activity level. Be sure to stay hydrated. Drink a minimum of 8-10 8 oz. glasses of fluid per day. Consume foods rich in dietary fiber such as bran, whole grain breads, rice, cereal and pastas as well as fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and nuts.


Cancer and Fatigue 

Fatigue is one of the most common side effects experienced by patients receiving treatment for cancer. It is usually described as feeling very weak, tired, or having lack of energy. Choose foods high in protein and calories, which provide lots of energy. Try nutritional supplements or liquid meal replacements if recommended by your physician and healthcare team.


Cancer and Diarrhea 

Diarrhea occurs when you are having frequent, loose, soft, or watery bowel movements, and can quickly lead to dehydration.  Avoid foods high in fiber, greasy, fatty foods, raw vegetables, and caffeine. Be sure to stay hydrated. Drink a minimum of 8-10 8 oz. glasses of fluid per day, water, clear beverages like broth or juices, Gatorade, or decaffeinated tea. Consume foods rich in potassium such as fruit juices and nectars, bananas, and potatoes (without skin) to help replenish the potassium that can be depleted with diarrhea. Consume foods high in pectin and soluble such as applesauce, baked apples, bananas, and oatmeal.


Cancer and Changes in Your Taste

During cancer treatment foods you usually prefer may become unappealing. You may also find that foods taste bland, bitter or metallic. Try rinsing with 1-2 oz of baking soda rinse before and after meals (recipe for baking soda rinse: 1 quart water, ¾ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon baking soda). If red meats taste strange, try substituting other proteins such as chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, dairy, beans, or tofu. Eat foods that smell and look good to you. Avoid using metal utensils; use plastic utensils instead. Avoid hot foods to reduce strong odors, serve food at room temperature.

Jessica Iannotta, MS, RD, CSO, CDN

Jessica is a registered dietitian and certified specialist in oncology nutrition (CSO). She studied nutrition at Cornell University and completed her dietetic internship at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. She obtained her Master's degree through the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Jessica has worked in inpatient and outpatient oncology settings since 2001 in the North Shore-LIJ Health System. Jessica is in charge of all operations including clinical and culinary operations ranging from menu development to evidence-based website content, relationships with registered dietitians and social workers and developing processes and protocols for intake, management and outcomes analysis of patients.

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  2. There is no such thing that cures cancer in 1 day..if it was pelope would not have babies and young and old die and go thru pure hell with this disease’ if they didn;t have to cancer is the worst disease to come around in a hundred years,,,,

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