Cancer treatment, heartburn and indigestion

Cancer and some treatments can cause heartburn, which is a burning sensation in your oesophagus and throat due to reflux. The discomfort may cause you to reduce your food intake and lead to weight loss.

If you have heartburn, avoid or minimise foods that make it worse. Try not to eat large amounts of chocolate, highly seasoned spicy foods, high–fat foods (such as fried food, pastries, cream, butter and oils), tomato and tomato products, citrus fruits, coffee (including decaf), strong tea, soft drinks and alcohol.

  • Avoid large meals, it is best to consume three small meals and three small snacks throughout the day.
  • Eat slowly and take the time to enjoy your meal. Avoid wearing tight clothing while eating, especially belts.
  • You may be able to eat more if you sip fluids in between meals, rather than drinking large amounts at meal time.
  • Be aware of foods or activities that may make your heartburn worse (see above).
  • Staying upright during and after eating and drinking can help. Sit upright for at least 30 minutes, and avoid lying down or activities that involve bending over (e.g. gardening) directly after eating.
  • Tell your doctor if indigestion or pain persists.
This information was last reviewed in June 2013

This information has been reviewed by: Jenelle Loeliger, Head – Nutrition Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Kate Aigner, Cancer Information Consultant, Cancer Council Helpline ACT; Ian Anderson, Consumer; Anna Boltong, PhD Candidate (Dietitian), Department of Cancer Experiences Research, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Clare Hughes, Nutrition Program Manager, Cancer Council NSW; Bridget Kehoe, Public Health Coordinator (Nutrition and Physical Activity), Cancer Council QLD; Steve Pratt, Nutrition and Physical Activity Manager, Cancer Council WA; and Roswitha Stegmann, Helpline Nurse, Cancer Council WA.

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