- Benefits of good nutrition during cancer treatment
- Cancer and cancer treatment affect nutrition
- Before treatment begins
- Once treatment starts
- Managing eating problems caused by surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy
- For people with weakened immune systems
- How to cope with common eating problems
- Appetite changes
- Mouth dryness or thick saliva
- Mouth or throat pain or sores
- Swallowing problems
- Taste and smell changes
- Weight gain
- Nutrition after treatment ends
- To learn more
- Recipes to try during cancer treatment
A person can have nausea with or without vomiting. If it’s caused by chemo, nausea can happen on the day you get your treatment and/or can last for a few days – depending on what drugs you get. If you’re getting radiation therapy to the belly, chest, brain, or pelvis, nausea can start shortly after treatment and last for several hours. Nausea and vomiting can have other causes, too.
Be sure to tell your cancer care team if you have nausea or are vomiting because there are medicines that can help. These medicines should be taken on a regular schedule, or around the clock, as prescribed by your doctor. And if a certain medicine doesn’t work, your cancer care team may be able to recommend another one. It may take a few tries to find the medicines that work best for you.
What to do
- Eat 6 to 8 snacks or small meals a day, instead of 3 large meals.
- Eat dry foods, like crackers, toast, dry cereals, or bread sticks, when you wake up and every few hours during the day.
- Eat foods that don’t have strong odors.
- Eat cool foods instead of hot or spicy foods.
- Avoid foods that are overly sweet, greasy, fried, or spicy.
- If you need to rest, sit up or recline with your head raised for at least an hour after eating.
- Sip clear liquids frequently to prevent dehydration. Clear liquids include broth, sport drinks, water, juice, gelatin, and popsicles.
- Ask your doctor about medicines to prevent or stop nausea.
- Try bland, soft, easy-to-digest foods on scheduled treatment days. Foods like Cream of Wheat and chicken noodle soup with saltine crackers may settle the stomach better than heavy meals.
- Avoid eating in a room that’s warm, or that has cooking odors or other smells. Cook outside on the grill or use boiling bags to reduce cooking odors.
- Suck on hard candy, like peppermint or lemon, if there’s a bad taste in your mouth.
- If you’re vomiting, dehydration can become a problem. You’ll need to drink clear liquids as often as possible during this time. After you have vomited, rinse your mouth, wait for about 30 minutes, then try to drink sips of a clear liquid like apple juice, cranberry juice, flat soda, or broth, or take bites of frozen flavored ice.
What to eat or not eat on days that you have nausea*
Foods that may cause problems
Boiled or baked meat, fish, and poultry; cold meat or fish salad
Cream soups made with low-fat milk
Fatty and fried meats, like sausage or bacon
Milk shakes (unless made with low-fat milk and ice cream)
Breads, cereals, rice, and pasta
Saltines, soda crackers, bread, toast, cold cereal, English muffins, bagels
Plain noodles, rice
Doughnuts, pastries, waffles, pancakes, muffins
Fruits and vegetables
Potatoes (baked, boiled, or mashed)
Canned or fresh fruits, vegetables as tolerated (do not eat if appetite is poor or nausea is severe)
Potato chips, French fries, hash browns
Breaded, fried, or creamed vegetables; vegetables with strong odor
Drinks, desserts, and other foods
Cold fruit-ades, decaffeinated soft drinks, iced decaf tea, sports drinks
Sherbet, fruit-flavored gelatin
Angel food cake, sponge cake; vanilla wafers
Popsicles, juice bars, fruit ices
Butter or margarine in small amounts, fat-skimmed gravy
Salt, cinnamon, spices as tolerated
Pie, ice cream, rich cakes
Spicy salad dressings
Pepper, chili powder, onion, hot sauce, seasoning mixtures
*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: 07/15/2015
Last Revised: 07/15/2015