Guide to food-related treatment side effects and how to deal with them

The following excerpts, save for the first section, are taken completely from the American Cancer Society’s Eating Hints. Full credit goes to the creators of this document. Keep in mind that while this information was originally written for the cancer patient themselves, as a caretaker, you are still able (and encouraged) to take advantage of this resource. 

 

 

Before you read this excerpt, remember something important: this information is not here to scare you.

These symptoms may seem a little daunting, but there is absolutely no guarantee that the person you care about will have them. As mentioned in the next section, some people don’t get any negative symptoms from their cancer treatments. Many people get very few, and even less people get more than that. Don’t look at this list like a premonition; instead, look at it like a helpful guide just in case your loved one does develop one of them. If your loved one does develop certain symptoms, there are many recipes (some which are included on the recipes page) that can cater to them.

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. This information is generic and should be treated as such.

 

 

Eating Problems At-A-Glance

Below is a list of eating problems that cancer treatment may cause. Not everyone gets every eating problem. Some people don’t have any problems. Which ones you might have will depend on the type and doses of treatment you receive and whether you have other health problems, such as diabetes or kidney or heart disease. Talk with your doctor, nurse or dietitian about the eating problems on this list. Ask which ones might affect you.

Eating Problems:

  • Appetite Loss
  • Changes in Sense of Taste or Smell
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry Mouth
  • Lactose Intolerance
  • Nausea
  • Sore Mouth
  • Sore Throat and Trouble Swallowing
  • Vomiting
  • Weight Gain
  • Weight Loss

 

 

Eating Problems That May Be Caused by Certain Cancer Treatments

 

Surgery

  • Surgery may slow digestion (how the body uses food). It can also affect eating if you have surgery of the mouth, stomach, intestines, or throat.
  • After surgery, some people have trouble getting back to normal eating. If this happens, you may need to get nutrients through a feeding tube or IV (through a needle directly into a vein).

Note: Surgery increases your need for good nutrition. If you are weak or underweight, you may need to eat a high-protein, high-calorie diet before surgery.

 

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy damages healthy cells as well as cancer cells.

When you have radiation therapy to the head, neck, chest, or esophagus, you may have eating problems such as:

  • Changes in your sense of taste
  • Dry mouth
  • Sore mouth
  • Sore throat
  • Tooth and jaw problems
  • Trouble swallowing

When you have radiation therapy to the abdomen or pelvis, you may have problems with:

  • Cramps, bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

 

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy works by stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells, which grow and divide quickly. But it can also harm healthy cells that grow and divide quickly, such as those in the lining of your mouth and intestines. Damage to healthy cells can lead to side effects. Some of these side effects can lead to eating problems, such as:

  • Appetite loss
  • Changes in your sense of taste
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Sore mouth
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting
  • Weight gain
  • Weight loss

 

Biological Therapy (Immunotherapy)

Biological therapy can affect your interest in food or ability to eat. Problems can include:

  • Changes in your sense of taste
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Appetite loss caused by flu-like symptoms, such as muscle aches, fatigue, and fever
  • Nausea
  • Sore mouth
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss (sometimes severe)

 

Hormone Therapy

Hormone therapy can affect your interest in food or ability to eat. Problems can include:

  • Changes in your sense of taste
  • Diarrhea

 

 

What foods will help my loved one manage these side effects?

The links below, taken from the American Cancer Society’s “Eating Hints,” will help your loved one manage many of the side effects they may face. “Nutrition for the Person With Cancer During Treatment: A Guide for Patients and Families,” another great resource from the American Cancer Society, has a detailed list of foods that your loved one should and should not eat with specific side effects (read from page 19 on).

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Clear liquids

This list may help if your loved one has appetite loss, constipation, diarrhea, or vomiting.

Full-liquid foods

This list may help if your loved one has appetite loss, vomiting, or weight loss.

High-fiber foods

This list may help if your loved one has constipation or weight gain.