Nutrition for the Person With Cancer During Treatment

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Fatigue is feeling very tired all of the time. It doesn’t get better when you rest. It can be a problem for some people during cancer treatment, and is very common. If you are feeling tired or lack energy, talk to your doctor or nurse.

Fatigue can have many causes, including cancer treatments, not eating enough food, lack of sleep, depression, low blood counts, and some medicines. When the cause of the fatigue is medical, your doctor may be able to treat the cause to help you feel better. Along with treatment, there are many nutrition steps you can take and other things you can try to help you cope with fatigue.

What to do

  • Talk to your doctor or nurse about your fatigue. If there’s a medical cause, there may be treatment for it. Your doctor or nurse can help you figure out self-care measures that may help with the fatigue, too.
  • Try to prioritize your activities. Do the most important ones when you have the most energy.
  • Take short walks or get regular exercise, if you can. More and more research tells us that being moderately active can help decrease cancer-related fatigue.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration can make fatigue worse. Be sure to get at least 8 cups of fluid each day. If you are losing weight, be sure to include some fluids that have calories, like juices or milk.
  • Make sure you get enough rest. Take 3 or 4 short naps or rest breaks during the day instead of 1 long rest. Plan your day to include rest breaks, and 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.
  • Try easier or shorter versions of your usual activities. Don’t push yourself to do more than you can manage.
  • Ask for a referral to a dietitian who can work with you to choose the best diet for you.
  • Do not eat sugary foods. These foods give you a quick energy boost, but it wears off and you will be even more tired afterward.
  • Try eating 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 you a more sustained feeling of energy from the food you eat. For example, instead of eating 2 pieces of fruit, try eating 1 piece plus a small handful of walnuts, almonds, peanuts, or other nuts. Or try fruit with cottage cheese.
  • Be sure to meet your basic calorie needs. (See “Tips to increase calories and protein” in the “Once treatment starts” section.)
  • Do not take large amounts of vitamins or minerals without first talking with your doctor or nurse. Some dietary supplements can interfere with your cancer treatment, and large doses of some supplements can have harmful effects.
  • Stress can make fatigue worse. Ask your health care team about stress management.

Last Medical Review: 06/09/2014
Last Revised: 06/09/2014