Nutrition for Children with Cancer

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Fatigue

Fatigue is feeling very tired all of the time. It doesn’t get better with rest. It can be a problem for some children during cancer treatment. If your child feels tired or lacks energy, talk to the doctor or nurse.

Fatigue can have many causes, including the cancer treatment, not eating enough, lack of sleep, depression, low blood counts, and some medicines. There are many things you can do to help your child cope.

  • Tell the doctor or nurse about your child’s fatigue. If the fatigue has a medical cause, there might be treatment for it. Your doctor or nurse can help you figure out if there are other things you can do to help combat the fatigue.
  • Have your child take short walks or get regular exercise, if possible. More and more research tells us that being moderately active can help decrease cancer-related fatigue.
  • Be sure your child drinks plenty of fluids. Dehydration can make fatigue worse. Talk to your health care team about how much fluid your child should get each day. If your child is losing weight, be sure to include some fluids that have calories, like juices or milk.
  • Make sure your child gets enough rest. Have her take 3 or 4 short naps or rest breaks during the day instead of a long rest. Plan the day to include rest breaks. Make rest time special with a good book in a comfortable chair or a favorite video with a friend. Try to balance rest and activity so that it doesn’t interfere with nighttime sleep.
  • Ask for a referral to a dietitian who can work with you to choose the best diet for your child.
  • Try to avoid sugary foods. These foods may give your child a quick energy boost but when it wears off, she may feel even more tired.
  • Get your child to eat some protein, fat, and/or fiber with each meal and snack. Protein, fat, and fiber can help keep blood sugar levels more stable. This will give her a more sustained feeling of energy from the food she eats. For example, try giving her 1 piece of fruit plus a small handful of walnuts, almonds, peanuts, or other nuts. Or try fruit with cottage cheese.
  • Be sure your child gets enough protein. The body needs protein to repair and build new tissue.
  • Be sure your child gets the calories she needs.
  • Be sure your child gets enough vitamins and minerals. A multivitamin supplement that contains no more than 100% of the RDA of each nutrient may help meet this goal. Always check with the doctor or nurse to make sure it is OK for your child to take a multivitamin. Some dietary supplements can interfere with cancer treatments and large doses of some can have harmful effects.

Last Medical Review: 06/30/2014
Last Revised: 06/30/2014