Nutrition and Cancer

Key messages:

  • Good nutrition is paramount for health
  • Cancer and cancer treatments can affect your appetite and eating habits
  • Changes in your diet can affect your weight leading to unintentional weight loss
  • It is important to maintain a healthy weight and get the right nutrients from your diet
  • If you experience difficulty or pain eating, there are ways to make eating more comfortable
  • Working with a Dietitian specialising in oncology can ensure you are getting the right nutrition

Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can prevent the occurrence of developing cancer. If you have been diagnosed with cancer, eating well can assist with your side effects from treatment.
Your diet is an important factor that you can control to reduce cancer risk or support your body during treatment. For the general population it is important to:

  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat less foods that are high in energy and fat, and low in nutrients
  • Eat two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables*
  • Limit alcohol intake

*What is a serve? Click here to see the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating for more information on serve sizes.

Side effects from cancer and treatment (surgery, chemotherapy and radiation) that can impact dietary intake include:

  • Anorexia
  • Reduced appetite
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Heartburn/Dyspepsia
  • Mucositis and Stomatitis
  • Oesophagitis
  • Taste alterations
  • Xerostomia (dry mouth)
  • Excess weight gain
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Pain
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Loss of daily structure
  • Loss of enjoyment and social activities
  • Fad diets or misinformation

Therefore it is important to ensure your food intake is adequate during treatment to provide you with enough energy to complete treatment, prevent treatment interruptions, improve survival and quality of life. The assistance of an Accredited Practising Dietitian can help to manage these side effects and ensure you are meeting your body’s requirements.

Unintentional substantial weight loss due to cancer and/or treatment can lead to malnutrition. Malnutrition is important as it can lead to a reduction in response to your treatment, increase hospital admissions and reduce your quality of life. If you have lost weight unintentionally use a Malnutrition Screening Tool to assess if you are at risk of malnutrition.