Nutrition for the Person With Cancer During Treatment

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Nausea

Mouth or throat pain or sores

Some people with cancer may have a sore mouth, mouth sores, or a sore throat. These problems are usually caused by certain chemo drugs and radiation to the head and neck area.

If you have these problems, eating soft, bland foods and lukewarm or cool foods can be soothing. On the other hand, foods that are coarse, dry, or scratchy may make you feel worse. You may also find that tart, salty, or acidic fruits and juices; alcohol; and spicy foods are irritating.

Rinse your mouth regularly with a salt and baking soda solution (1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt mixed in 1 quart water). This helps prevent infections and helps your sore mouth feel better. Gargle with the mixture to relieve a sore throat.

What to do for a sore throat

  • Avoid tart, acidic, or salty foods, as well as pickled and vinegary foods, tomato-based foods, and some canned broths.
  • Avoid rough-textured or hard foods, like dry toast, crackers, chips, nuts, granola, and raw fruits and vegetables.
  • Choose lukewarm or cold foods that are soothing. Very hot foods can cause discomfort. Try freezing fruits, and suck on frozen fruit pops, fruit ices, or ice chips.
  • Stay away from alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco.
  • Avoid irritating spices like chili powder, cloves, curry, hot sauces, nutmeg, and pepper. Season foods with herbs like basil, oregano, and thyme.
  • Eat soft, creamy foods like cream soups, cheeses, mashed potatoes, yogurt, eggs, custards, puddings, cooked cereals, and canned liquid food supplements (see chart below).
  • Blend and moisten foods that are dry or solid. Mix them in with soups or sauces, gravies, and casseroles.
  • Avoid using mouthwashes that contain alcohol (which will cause burning).
  • Your doctor can prescribe a “swish and swallow” numbing mouthwash. Ask about this.
  • Puree or liquefy foods in a blender to make them easier to swallow.

What to eat or not eat when your throat is sore*

 

    Eat

    Foods that may cause problems

    High protein

    Soft, bland meats and casseroles like chicken and rice, macaroni and cheese, and tuna noodle casserole

    Ground meats

    Creamed soups

    Eggnog, milk, milk shakes

    Spicy foods like spaghetti, tacos, chili

    Whole meats if not well tolerated

    Breads, cereals, rice, and pasta

    Bread, if tolerated

    Cooked cereals, cold cereals with milk

    Crackers, hard-crust breads, salted rolls

    Fruits and vegetables

    Soft, non-acidic fruit and vegetables, if tolerated

    Citrus fruit and raw vegetables

    Drinks, desserts, and other foods

    Non-acidic juices like apple juice and pear nectar

    Decaffeinated coffee, tea, and soft drinks

    Non-chocolate pudding, cake, cookies (as tolerated), pie

    Gelatin

    Ice cream, sherbet

    Citrus juices (grapefruit, orange, lemon, and lime), tomato juice

    Caffeinated beverages, alcohol

    Chocolate desserts

    Pickles, vinegar, spices

    Potato chips, pretzels, popcorn, snack chips

*Adapted from Eldridge B, and Hamilton KK, Editors, Management of Nutrition Impact Symptoms in Cancer and Educational Handouts. Chicago, IL: American Dietetic Association; 2004.

What to do for mouth sores

  • Eat soft, bland foods like creamed soup, cooked cereal, macaroni and cheese, yogurt, and pudding.
  • Puree or liquefy foods in a blender to make them easier to swallow.
  • Serve foods cold or lukewarm, rather than hot, to reduce mouth irritation.
  • Tilt your head back to help foods and liquids flow to the back of the throat for swallowing.
  • Drink through a straw to bypass mouth sores.
  • Avoid irritating spices, seasonings, and condiments like pepper, chili powder, cloves, nutmeg, salsa, pepper sauces, and horseradish.
  • Avoid rough, dry, or coarse foods.
  • Eat high-protein, high-calorie foods to speed healing.
  • Look for yogurt made without citric acid.
  • Avoid alcohol, carbonated beverages, and tobacco.
  • Rinse your mouth often with a baking soda and salt mouthwash (made with 1 quart water, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt – shake well before each use) to help keep your mouth clean and make you more comfortable.
  • Your doctor can prescribe a “swish and swallow” mouthwash with a numbing agent if needed. Ask about this.

What to eat or not eat when you have mouth sores*

 

    Eat

    Foods that may cause problems

    High protein

    Ground, chopped, or blenderized meats, poultry, or fish

    Casseroles

    Egg, cheese, and bean dishes

    Milk shakes, yogurt, and commercial liquid nutritional supplements

    Whole meats, poultry, fish, dry meats

    Breads, cereals, rice, and pasta

    Moistened breads

    Cooked cereals, cold cereal soaked in milk

    Pasta and rice in sauce

    Dry toast, hard rolls, dry crackers, English muffins, bagels

    Fruits and vegetables

    Cooked or blenderized fruits; fruits and vegetables

    Fresh fruits and vegetables (unless very ripe, soft, and juicy, like applesauce, bananas, and watermelon); citrus fruit, pineapple, and other acidic fruits

    Pickled fruit; raw and pickled vegetables

    Tomatoes

    Drinks, desserts, and other foods

    Fruit nectars

    Flavored gelatin

    Ice cream, sherbet, pudding

    Butter, margarine, and vegetable oils

    Carbonated drinks

    Cookies and cakes unless soaked in milk

    Crunchy snacks like pretzels and chips

    Vinegar

    Condiments like pepper, pepper sauces, chili powder, cloves, nutmeg, salsa

*Adapted from Eldridge B, and Hamilton KK, Editors, Management of Nutrition Impact Symptoms in Cancer and Educational Handouts. Chicago, IL: American Dietetic Association; 2004.


Last Medical Review: 05/26/2012
Last Revised: 03/15/2013