A battle with cancer is one of the most strenuous situations a person can go through. Although we’ve advanced greatly in the effectiveness of how cancer is treated, these treatments can still be very taxing on your body.

Your diet can have a significant impact on your body’s ability to withstand cancer treatments and to heal afterward. Regardless of what form of treatment you receive, we’ve put together a few tips for before, during, and after cancer treatment that can make your symptoms more manageable and improve your overall quality of life.

Before Treatment

Cancer is primarily treated through surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Other treatments, such as immunotherapy, hormonal therapy, and others may be recommended depending on your cancer diagnosis. These treatments can be taxing on the body and can cause side effects.

Before you start receiving these treatments, it’s important that you prepare your body by flooding it with vitamins and nutrients. One of your goals throughout your treatments will be to maintain your body weight, as cancer treatments can often make you lose or gain weight rapidly. It’s also not uncommon for you to lose muscle mass as well.

Studies have shown that cancers that require surgery, such as the treatment of breast cancer, are directly related to your nutrition beforehand. Your meals should contain high sources of protein and carbohydrates, which will help to offset some of these side effects. If you’re dealing with a type of cancer that requires multiple types of treatment, like when you’re treating mesothelioma —an aggressive cancer that is often treated with two or more therapies, your nutrition intake can help your body regrow the healthy cells that may be damaged during treatment.

You also want to stock up on your favorite foods before you begin treatment. This will help prevent you from having to grocery shop as often when you’re not feeling well. Meal prep a bunch of healthy, hearty dishes and freeze them so you have ready-made meals for when you’re not able to cook.

During Treatment

Nutrition intake is a crucial component in how well your body receives cancer treatment. However, eating can become a difficult task while you’re receiving cancer treatment. Patients often have to deal with:

  • Loss/growth in appetite
  • Changes to taste and smell
  • Problems chewing and swallowing
  • Dry mouth
  • Mouth sores
  • Upset stomach, nausea, and vomiting

You may need to adapt your eating habits during cancer treatment in order to adjust to these side effects. For example, eating multiple small meals throughout the day instead of three large ones can help combat appetite changes you may be experiencing. If you’re having trouble chewing and swallowing, then eat softer foods like potatoes, eggs, soups, and stews.

A high carb, high protein diet is recommended for cancer patients undergoing treatments to prevent sudden weight loss. This may mean eating foods that aren’t traditionally thought of as healthy. Bread, red meat, cheeses, and pasta can be great sources of these minerals. Fruits and vegetables are a must, as they provide valuable nutrients to the body. They can also help to regulate your body’s digestive system and help treat constipation and diarrhea.

Included in your diet plan should be making sure you consume enough water throughout the day. Hydration is important whether you’re going through cancer treatment or not. It’s important to ensure you fuel your body with enough water during cancer treatment to avoid dehydration. If you experience vomiting, diarrhea, or a fever, you need more water. It’s also necessary to let your doctor know so that they can evaluate if it’s dehydration or another factor.

Your diet can also be influenced by the type of cancer that you’re battling as well. Patients dealing with gastrointestinal cancers, such as colorectal cancer or stomach cancer, may require radiation to the belly, surgery near the intestines, and certain medications that can lead to lactose intolerance. In these instances, switching to a diet free of dairy products may be necessary. However, don’t alter your diet until speaking with your health professional to ensure it’s the right choice.

Lastly, try to make mealtimes enjoyable. Your body is undergoing a lot of stress, so use mealtime as a time of day to relax. Allow yourself to eat what makes you happy and spend time with your support system. Or turn on your favorite show. It can also be stressful to plan meals on top of treatments, so seek outside help. Consider asking family and friends to make their favorite meals for you that you can keep on hand in the freezer.

After Treatment

Once you’ve completed your treatments, it’s still important to maintain a healthy diet to avoid any reactions or increase the risk of cancer coming back. The first step is to check with your medical team to determine if you have developed any dietary restrictions, such as allergies or foods that may cause a harmful reaction.

Next, work to create a list of go-to foods and meals that you can safely and comfortably have post-treatment. Having a list on hand will make it easier on you and less stressful when it comes to mealtime. It’s also a good idea to have a list of foods and drinks to avoid so that you don’t accidentally increase the chances of your cancer coming back. This list could include alcohol, overly processed foods such as deli meat, or certain snacks. Work with your doctor to learn what to avoid and let your support system know, too, as there may be new foods that are now off-limits.

Remember to give yourself grace during this time and that mistakes happen. However, setting yourself up early for a successful post-cancer treatment diet will make a huge difference in both your physical and mental health. Seek help when you need it and make mealtime enjoyable and intentional. Listen to your body and give it what it needs.

The Bottom Line

There is plenty of cancer research that shows the relationship between diet and cancer treatment. The important thing to remember while you’re looking for this information on the internet is that there has been no evidence that supports one diet that will aid in your recovery. Any claims that the ketogenic diet, alkaline diet, or the paleo diet will magically cure all of your symptoms have not been supported with clinical research. You shouldn’t make any major changes to your diet without first consulting with your doctor about the benefits and risks.

A registered dietitian is a crucial member of your medical team. Their help will be more accurate than any advice you can find online. Any diet changes you wish to make before, during, and after your treatments should be run by them and your healthcare professionals.


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