Appetite loss and nausea

Good nutrition is important during and after cancer treatment. It can help to manage the side effects of treatment and speed up recovery. However, some people may lose interest in food or find it difficult to eat well during radiation therapy. This can depend on the part of the body being treated.

With radiation therapy to the abdomen (including stomach and bowel), pelvic region or head, some people feel sick (nauseous) or even vomit after a treatment session. Your radiation oncologist may prescribe medicine to take at home before and after each session to prevent nausea. If you are finding nausea difficult to manage, talk to the radiation oncologist or nurse about some strategies, or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

If you have radiation therapy to the head and neck area, chewing or swallowing may be difficult or painful. Your sense of taste may also change if radiation therapy has affected the salivary glands or tastebuds. See Mouth and throat problems for ways to manage these effects and maintain good nutrition.

For more on appetite loss, nausea and nutrition, call 13 11 20, or see Nutrition and Cancer.

   — Simon

Listen to a podcast on Appetite Loss and Nausea

Managing appetite loss Managing nausea
  • Eat smaller amounts as often as possible rather than a few large meals.
  • Try to eat extra on days when you have an appetite.
  • Ask a dietitian for advice on the best eating plan during treatment and recovery.
  • If you don’t feel like eating solid foods, try enriching your drinks with powdered milk, yoghurt, eggs or honey.
  • Do not use nutritional supplements or medicines without your doctor’s advice, as some could interfere with treatment.
  • Cooking smells may put you off eating. It might help if someone else prepares your food, or you could consider reheating precooked meals.
  • Try to do some light physical activity, such as walking. This may improve your appetite.
  • Have a bland snack, such as toast and apple juice, before each session. You may find that ginger or peppermint flavoured food and drinks help to reduce nausea.
  • Sip on water and other fluids throughout the day to prevent dehydration.
  • Eat dry biscuits, crackers or toast.
  • Some people find that antinausea medicine helps. Ask your doctor for a prescription, and tell them if the prescribed medicine doesn’t help – it may take some time to find one that works for you.
  • Contact your doctor if the symptoms of nausea don’t improve after a few days, or if you have been vomiting for more than 24 hours.

This information was last reviewed in December 2017
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