Maintaining your nutrition is especially important while you are receiving cancer treatment. Good nutrition includes a balance of protein, calories, fluids, vitamins and minerals. It helps the body heal, fights infections and helps to maintain overall health. Cancer and cancer treatments affect the body in different ways. For example, they can change how you taste, swallow or chew your food and can temporarily change how your body uses food.

MD Anderson offers complete nutrition services to patients, to help cope with diet and appetite issues related to cancer and cancer treatment. 

Below are some common side effects of various cancer treatments, with a list of tips to help you overcome them:

Loss of Appetite

  • Eat small, more frequent meals
  • Take advantage of times when you're hungriest, usually in the morning
  • Do some light exercise to stimulate the appetite
  • Keep ready-to-eat foods on hand at home and on the road
  • Drink oral supplements like Ensure or Carnation Instant Breakfast
  • If you just can't bring yourself to eat, ask your doctor for appetite stimulants


  • For foods with a strong smell, like broccoli, try eating them cold or lukewarm
  • Avoid favorite foods--if you try to eat them and get nauseous, you may forever associate that food with getting sick
  • Eat dry crackers or toast
  • Avoid fatty, greasy fried foods
  • Drink liquid between meals rather than with food
  • Avoid tight clothing
  • Keep a log of when you become nauseous. It may help determine what's making you sick.
  • Tart foods or beverages can help settle the stomach
  • Ask your doctor for anti-nausea medication

Mouth & Throat Problems

  • Avoid tart, spicy or acidic foods
  • Avoid rough, coarse foods that can irritate the throat
  • Eat foods lukewarm, rather than hot or cold
  • Puree foods in a blender
  • Use a straw for drinks or soups
  • Use anesthetic (numbing) throat sprays or lozenges before eating
  • Practice good oral hygiene

Dry Mouth

  • Sip liquids frequently to moisten mouth
  • Tart or sweet foods and drinks can help ease dryness
  • Suck on hard candy or popsicles, or chew gum
  • Eat food with gravies and sauces to ease swallowing
  • Puree foods before eating
  • Ask your doctor about artificial saliva

Change in Taste or Smell

  • Eat foods cold or lukewarm
  • Rinse your mouth with water, lemonade or ginger ale to decrease bitter taste
  • Find protein alternatives
  • Try different foods
  • Experiment with seasonings


  • Increase fiber intake
  • Drink warm beverages
  • Get some light exercise, which may also stimulate the appetite
  • Ask your doctor about stool softeners


  • Limit your intake of fiber, high-fat foods, sugar-free items and lactose (dairy) products
  • Drink lots of fluids
  • Increase your sodium and potassium sources

Tube Feeding
To make sure you receive adequate nutrition during cancer treatment, your doctor and your dietitian may recommend a feeding tube. A feeding tube is a small flexible plastic tube that will help your body get the protein, calories, vitamins and fluids that it needs