Cancer and its treatment can place extra demands on your body, making eating well more important than ever. This is not always possible because you may feel too unwell to eat. However, there are ways to manage and control the effects treatment has on appetite.
Benefits of good nutrition
- It helps you cope better with treatment side effects and recover sooner.
- It helps wounds and damaged tissues heal better. This is important after surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or other medical treatment.
- It improves your body’s immune system – its natural defence – so you are better able to fight off infection.
- Eating well will also help you stay a healthy weight and feel better in yourself. This is important even if you are not having treatment.
The body converts food into energy. This food energy is measured in kilojoules or calories. It is labelled as ‘kj’ for kilojoules on food packaging.
Everyone needs a certain number of kilojoules each day to fuel their bodies for energy, growth and repair. You need energy even if you are not very active.
Phase 1: Cancer treatment
- You may need to eat more energy (calories).
- Eat small, frequent meals or snacks, rather than three large meals a day.
- If you start to lose weight, try eating extra nutritious snacks or drinks.
- If possible, do some light physical activity to improve appetite and fatigue, help digestion and prevent constipation.
- Check with your doctor or dietitian if you want to take vitamin supplements.
Phase 2: Recovering from treatment
- It is important to eat a variety of foods and to do some physical activity to rebuild your muscles, and to fix any problems the treatment has caused.
Phase 3: Preventing cancer recurrence and new cancers
- Healthy eating, maintaining a healthy body weight and being physically active can help to lower the chance of cancer coming back.
- Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables can lower the risk of developing cancer. Try to eat at least two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables every day.
Phase 4: Living with advanced cancer
- Nutrition helps people with advanced cancer maintain quality of life.
- Adjust your food choices and eating patterns to meet changing nutritional needs.
- Some medications and physical activity can help increase appetite.
- Nutrition supplements may help people who can’t eat enough.
Source: American Cancer Society report: Nutrition during and after cancer treatment: A guide for informed choices by cancer survivors.
To read a full copy of the report, see the American Cancer Society’s website: www.cancer.org
Can foods cause cancer?
There are many different cancers and many different causes of cancer, only some of which are understood. Cancer starts when cells begin to grow out of control. The reason for this change is unknown but diet can sometimes play a part.
It is unlikely that any one food or food additive is to blame. It is more likely that eating habits combined with other lifestyle factors such as smoking and too much sunlight may, over a long period of time, increase the risk of developing some cancers.
Can foods cure cancer?
There is no evidence to prove that eating certain foods can cure cancer.
Once a cancer has developed, food alone cannot cure it. Currently there is no evidence to prove that eating certain foods can cure cancer. Some do no harm, while others may be harmful and may interfere with the success of your medical treatment.
Does excess food feed the cancer?
No, cancer does not grow from eating too much food. Some people think fasting is a good treatment for cancer but there’s no evidence to support this and lack of food can leave you feeling weak.