Poor appetite and weight loss
Because the liver plays a key role in the digestive system, cirrhosis and cancer in the liver can affect how much you eat, and you may lose weight. Radiation therapy and other cancer treatments can also have an impact on appetite and weight, especially if you have side effects such as nausea and vomiting, mouth ulcers, and taste or smell changes.
Maintaining your weight can help your recovery, so it’s important to eat and drink enough during and after treatment. Gentle physical activity, like a short walk around the block, can stimulate appetite, and eating a variety of foods may boost how much you eat. Your doctor may suggest that you avoid salty foods as these can increase the risk of ascites. For more tips on staying well nourished, see below.
How to stay well nourished
Eat foods you enjoyEat foods that you like, but also try eating different foods. Your taste and tolerance for some foods may have changed and may continue to change. Chew foods well and slowly to avoid becoming too full.
Drink fluidsPrevent dehydration by drinking fluids, such as water, between meals (e.g. 30–60 minutes before or after meals). Avoid filling up on fluids at mealtimes – unless it’s a hearty soup – to ensure you have room for nourishing food.
Talk to a dietitianAsk your dietitian what foods you can eat to increase your energy and protein intake.
Get helpAsk your family and friends to cook for you and offer you food throughout the day.
Snack during the dayTry eating 5–6 small meals rather than three large ones each day. Keep a selection of snacks handy (e.g. in your bag or car).
See Nutrition and cancer for more information and meal ideas.
Podcast: Appetite Loss and Nausea
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
A/Prof Simone Strasser, Hepatologist, AW Morrow Gastroenterology and Liver Centre, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and The University of Sydney, NSW; A/Prof Siddhartha Baxi, Radiation Oncologist and Medical Director, GenesisCare, Gold Coast, QLD; Prof Katherine Clark, Clinical Director of Palliative Care, NSLHD Supportive and Palliative Care Network, Northern Sydney Cancer Centre, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Anne Dowling, Hepatoma Clinical Nurse Consultant and Liver Transplant Coordinator, Austin Health, VIC; A/Prof Koroush Haghighi, Liver, Pancreas and Upper Gastrointestinal Surgeon, Prince of Wales and St Vincent’s Hospitals, NSW; Karen Hall, 131120 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Dr Brett Knowles, Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary and General Surgeon, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and St Vincent’s Hospital, VIC; Lina Sharma, Consumer; David Thomas, Consumer; Clinical A/Prof Michael Wallace, Department of Hepatology and Western Australian Liver Transplant Service, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital Medical School, The University of Western Australia, WA; Prof Desmond Yip, Clinical Director, Department of Medical Oncology, The Canberra Hospital, ACT.
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