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Chemotherapy: What To Do While In Treatment

Chemotherapy And Nutrition

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Good nutrition is extremely important during treatment. People who eat well cope with side effects better and fight infection more easily. In addition, their bodies can rebuild healthy tissues faster.

Eating well during chemotherapy means choosing a balanced diet that contains all the nutrients your body needs, including foods from each of the following food groups: fruits and vegetables; poultry, fish, and meat; cereals and breads; and dairy products. You should consume enough calories to keep your weight up and, most importantly, enough protein to build and repair skin, hair, muscles and organs.

  • Eat a balanced diet. 
    • For information about nutrition, click here.
    • If you need meals delivered to your home, contact the American Cancer Society to find out if there is an organization that delivers in your area. Call 800.ACS.2345. If not, friends and family, or a local religious organization may be able to help.
    • For information about financial help buying food (formerly "food stamps"), click here.
  • Eat as much as you can to help keep your weight up. 
    • For information about weight gain and loss, including how to dress without spending a lot of money as your weight changes, click here.
  • It may be easier to eat small, frequent meals during the day instead of three large meals. 
  • To help keep up your weight during treatment, consider:
    • Supplementing food with a nutrition drink such as Ensure or by putting a protein powder in your food.
    • Increasing your intake of fattening foods unless fattening foods are not a good idea because of other aspects of your health situation.
  • Do not eat any raw foods or foods containing raw eggs during treatment.
  • Buy, store and cook foods properly.
  • Ask your doctor what you should be adding to your diet to make up for nutrients the drugs may remove.
  • Small amounts of alcohol can help increase your appetite. Since alcohol can interact negatively with some drugs, ask your doctor before proceeding.
  • Marijuana can also help with appetite in the states in which it is legal for medical purposes. If marijuana for medical purposes is not allowed in your state, synthetic marijuana may have the same effect. Check with your health care team. (For information about medical marijuana, click here.)

You may also need to drink extra amounts of fluid to protect your bladder and kidneys during your treatment.

For the American Cancer Society's nutrition tips for managing side effects of treatment, see: offsite link

Ed note: For eating tips, National Cancer Institute has a publication Eating Hints for Cancer Patients Before, During and After Treatment available for free online at: offsite link or call for a copy: 800.4.CANCER

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