Why is nutrition important to cancer treatment?

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For a detailed list on nutrition and foods catering to specific symptoms, visit the following PDF at cancer.gov.

Nutrition is essential to cancer treatment. Cancer treatment, as well as cancer itself, can leave some patients with nutrition-related side effects, such as deficiencies or a lack in appetite. With the proper diet, cancer patients can feel better and stronger—both physiologically and psychologically.

Proper nutrition can help patients with the following1:

  • Weight gain/weight loss
  • Regaining nutrients (such as protein, carbohydrates, etc.)
  • Lowering risk of infection
  • Retaining strength and energy
  • Healing/recovering faster
  • Feeling better overall

It’s important to note that while the following information is beneficial, it is not by any means meant to replace professional health. If your loved one has a specific diet that they must follow, then be sure to consult their dietitian for proper instruction. If you are able to meet with your loved one’s dietitian, bring a pen and paper (or your cellphone!) and take notes on the information they give you. Remember, they’re here to help you!


Why does my loved one need to focus on eating better?

As the American Cancer Society says, “Good nutrition is especially important if you have cancer because both the illness and its treatments can change the way you eat. Cancer and cancer treatments can also affect the way your body tolerates certain foods and uses nutrients.”

This doesn’t mean, of course, that your loved one needs to give up hamburgers following a diagnosis. “Good nutrition” for a cancer patient simply means making sure that they get their necessary nutrients in a way that’s not overwhelming for them.

black-star What are these “necessary nutrients?”

The American Cancer Society says that it’s important

for cancer patients to take in include protein, carbohydrates, fat,

water, vitamins, and minerals.


That being said, what can my loved one eat?

Again, don’t automatically assume that the ideal cancer patient’s diet consists of lettuce and ice water. There are many different foods that you can make for your loved one. Below is a chart of easy-to-make snacks (see page 9), courtesy of the American Cancer Society:

Angel food cake Gelatin made with juice, milk, or fruit Popcorn, pretzels
Cereal (hot or cold) Granola or trail mix Puddings, custards
Cheese (aged or hard cheese cottage cheese, cream cheese, and more) Homemade milk shakes and smoothies Sandwiches such as egg salads, grilled cheese, or peanut butter
Cookies Ice cream, sherbet, and frozen yogurt Soups (broth based or hearty)
Crackers Juices Sports drinks
Dips made with cheese, beans, yogurt, or peanut butter Milk by itself, flavored, or with instant breakfast powder Vegetables (raw or cooked) with olive oil, dressing, or sauce
Eggnog (pasteurized) Muffins Yogurt (low fat or Greek)
Fruit (fresh, frozen, canned, dried) Nuts, seeds, and nut butters Microwave snacks



My loved one has really bad [side effect(s)]. What foods will help them manage that?

For a list of food-related cancer treatment side effects, as well as foods that help manage them, visit the STLO Project’s Guide to food-related treatment side effects and how to deal with them. The same information can also be accessed at cancer.gov.




  1. “Nutrition for the Person With Cancer During Treatment: A Guide for Patients and Families.” Cancer.org. American Cancer Society, 15 Jul. 2015. Web. 20 Jul. 2016. (Link)