Poor appetite and weight loss
After surgery, you may have a poor appetite caused by changes to your digestive system. Your stomach will be smaller (or completely removed) and you will feel full more quickly. You may not feel like eating or you may have lost your sense of taste. It is important to maintain your weight. Even a small drop in your weight (e.g. 3–4 kg), particularly over a short period of time, may put you at risk of malnutrition and affect your recovery.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can also affect your appetite, due to nausea, irritation to the oesophagus or a sore mouth. If your oesophagus is very sore from radiation therapy, talk to your doctor about pain-relieving medicines and a referral to a dietitian.
How to prevent unplanned weight loss
- Snack during the day – eat 5–6 small meals rather than three large ones each day.
- Keep a selection of snacks handy, e.g. in your bag or car.
- Make the most of the times you feel hungry or crave certain foods. Eat slowly and stop and rest when you are full.
- Ensure you have room for nourishing food – avoid filling up on liquids at mealtimes, unless it’s a hearty soup.
- Prevent dehydration by drinking between meals (30–60 minutes before or after meals).
- Test your ability to eat different foods. Your taste and tolerance for some foods may change.
- Ask your dietitian how you can increase your energy and protein intake.
- Don’t eat late at night. It may make you uncomfortable, bring on reflux and disturb your sleep.
Prof David Watson, Senior Consultant Surgeon, Oesophago-gastric Surgery Unit, Flinders Medical Centre, and Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor of Surgery, Flinders University, SA; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Katie Benton, Advanced Dietitian, Cancer Care, Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service, QLD; Alana Fitzgibbon, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Gastrointestinal Cancers, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Christine Froude, Consumer; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Dr Spiro Raftopoulos, Interventional Endoscopist and Consultant Gastroenterologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Grant Wilson, Consumer; Prof Desmond Yip, Clinical Director, Department of Medical Oncology, The Canberra Hospital, ACT. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
The information on this page is also available for download.
Life after cancer treatment
Webinars, exercise and nutrition, sexuality programs, and back-to-work support
Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or to someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum
Need legal and financial assistance?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment
Nutrition and cancer
Learn about nutrition, and suggest tips for eating well during and after cancer treatment
Managing cancer side effects
Learn more about the range of side effects cancer can cause, and how to manage these
View our publications
Guides and fact sheets for people with cancer, their families and friends