Treatment Side Effects


Side effects can influence appetite and ease of eating and drinking
While cancer treatments target fast-growing cancer cells in your body, they also affect rapidly dividing healthy cells in the mouth, digestive tract and hair. The resulting side effects can make eating a challenge sometimes. They vary based on the body part being treated, the type and length of treatment, and the treatment dose. Not everyone experiences side effects, but even if you do, it helps to know most of them go away after treatment.

Common side effects
    Chemotherapy
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Mouth soreness
    • Loss of appetite
    • Bowel changes: Diarrhea or constipation
    • Taste changes

    Radiation Therapy to the abdomen and pelvis
    • Diarrhea
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Abdominal cramps and bloating
    • Early fullness
    • Loss of appetite
    • Fragile, sensitive skin

    Radiation Therapy to the head, neck and chest:
    • Dry mouth
    • Mouth soreness
    • Taste changes
    • Difficult and painful swallowing
    • Oral thrush
    • Loss of appetite
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Fragile, sensitive skin
You can help manage these symptoms by modifying the size and frequency of meals as well as simple recipes with increased protein and calories. Learn more...
Loss of appetite
Loss of appetite is one of the most common symptoms associated with cancer. It may be caused by treatment, the disease itself, or their interaction. Because your body needs more protein and calories to rebuild tissues destroyed by cancer and the effects of treatment, nutrition remains important even if your interest in food is lower than normal. Some people rarely feel hungry. Others eat less because they feel full or food doesn’t taste as good as it used to. Here are some ways to meet the challenge of maintaining adequate nutrition.
  • Eat small, frequent meals or snacks throughout the day.
  • Try to eat foods with high caloric density to get the most nutrition out of what you eat.
  • Drink fluids that contain calories (milk, juices, Kool-Aid, soda, nutritional supplements) so you don’t fill up on "empty" beverages (water, coffee, diet soda).
  • Keep high-calorie, high-protein snacks handy to eat throughout the day–even at bedtime.
  • A short walk before a meal may help stimulate your appetite.
  • Ask your physician or nurse about appetite-promoting medications. With your caregivers’ permission, a glass of beer or wine before meals could help, too.
  • Take advantage of "up" times. You may be hungrier at certain times of the day. Carry a snack pack and make the most of those opportunities.
  • Take it easy on yourself in the kitchen. Use easy-to-prepare foods to save time and energy if you’re not up to cooking.
Liquid nutritional supplements
If you cannot get enough nutrients from your diet, try these concentrated sources of calories, protein, vitamins and minerals. They are especially helpful when a sore mouth or throat makes swallowing solid foods difficult. Supplements are widely available at stores in assorted flavors and nutrient densities. Most need no refrigeration until they are opened. They’re easy to take along for a snack away from home. Keep some cooling in the ‘fridge for between-meal or bedtime snacks. Your dietitian can give you samples and more information about the use of supplements.
Healthy snacks
Cheese and crackers Trail mix
Peanut butter crackers Peanut butter and jelly
Instant breakfast drinks Meat/cheese sandwiches
Custard Muffins
Pudding Oatmeal cookies
Yogurt Graham crackers
Dried fruits (raisins) Vanilla wafers
Bagel with cream cheese Fruit & yogurt "smoothies"
Nuts Nutritional supplements
Calorie dense foods
Cheese Milkshakes
Butter and margarine Sour cream
Oils Whole milk
Salad dressings Ice cream
Dips Yogurt
Dried fruits Peanut butter
Juices and nectars Honey
Cold cuts Nutritional supplements
Protein dense foods
Casseroles Baked beans
Cheese Milk
Meats Milkshakes
Cottage cheese Soy milk/nuts
Custard Nutritional supplements
Eggs Fortified milk
Fish Instant breakfast drinks
Dried peas and beans
Back to Top