Nutrition and advanced cancer

Advanced cancer means the cancer has spread from where it started to other areas of the body.

Problems with eating and drinking may arise or worsen when the cancer is advanced. It’s common for people with advanced cancer to lose their appetite. This often leads to weight loss and malnutrition.

Controlling nutrition-related symptoms is important for quality of life. During this time, it’s okay to focus on eating foods you enjoy. Soft food and clear liquids may be easier to digest.

For more on this, see Living with advanced cancer.

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Listen to our podcast on Appetite Loss and Nausea, or to our podcast series on Advanced cancer

Nausea and vomiting

Many people with advanced cancer have problems with ongoing nausea and vomiting.

Nausea and vomiting may be caused by pain medicines, cancer growth, blockage of the bowel, slower digestion, or high calcium levels in the blood (hypercalcaemia). Feeling tired or anxious may make the nausea worse. The suggestions listed here may help reduce nausea and vomiting.

Mouth problems

People with advanced cancer may have a dry mouth or a sore mouth and throat. These problems may be caused by drinking less or by some types of treatment. Learn ways to ease a dry mouth. If chewing and swallowing become difficult, it may be necessary to introduce a texture-modified diet.

Blockage in the bowel

Surgery in the abdominal area sometimes causes the bowel to become blocked (bowel obstruction). This can also happen if the cancer comes back.

Because waste matter (faeces) cannot pass through the bowel easily, symptoms may include feeling sick, vomiting, or abdominal discomfort and pain. To relieve symptoms of a bowel obstruction, you may have a small tube (stent) put in that helps keep the bowel open. The stent is inserted through the rectum using a flexible tube called an endoscope.


People with advanced cancer may develop a muscle wasting syndrome known as cachexia. This means the body isn’t using protein, carbohydrates and fats properly. Symptoms include:

  • severe loss of weight, including loss of fat and muscle mass
  • feeling sick (nausea)
  • feeling full after eating small amounts
  • anaemia
  • weakness and fatigue.

Your doctor or dietitian will discuss the best way for you to manage cachexia. They may suggest a diet high in energy and protein, nutritional supplements, or medicines such as appetite stimulants.

If you continue to have problems maintaining your nutrition, your treating team may recommend feeding via a tube in the nose (nasogastric or NG tube) or stomach (often known as a PEG tube). However, each person is different and, depending on your situation, tube feeding may not be recommended.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on Nutrition and Cancer.

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

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To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
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Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

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Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
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Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in June 2019
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