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Nutrition in Cancer Care (PDQ®): Supportive care - Patient Information [NCI] - Treatment of Symptoms

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See the Oral Mucositis and Infection sections of the PDQ summary on Oral Complications of Chemotherapy and Head/Neck Radiation for more information on mouth sores and infections.

Nausea

Nausea caused by cancer treatment can affect the amount and kinds of food eaten. The following may help cancer patients control nausea:

  • Eat before cancer treatments.
  • Rinse out the mouth before and after eating.
  • Eat foods that are bland, soft, and easy-to-digest, rather than heavy meals. Eat small meals several times a day.
  • Eat dry foods such as crackers, bread sticks, or toast throughout the day.
  • Slowly sip fluids throughout the day.
  • Suck on hard candies such as peppermints or lemon drops if the mouth has a bad taste.
  • Stay away from foods that are likely to cause nausea. For some patients, this includes spicy foods, greasy foods, and foods that have strong odors.
  • Sit up or lie with the upper body raised for one hour after eating.
  • Don't eat in a room that has cooking odors or that is very warm. Keep the living space at a comfortable temperature with plenty of fresh air.

See the PDQ summary on Nausea and Vomiting for more information.

Diarrhea

Diarrhea may be caused by cancer treatments, surgery on the stomach or intestines, or by emotional stress. Long-term diarrhea may lead to dehydration (lack of water in the body) or low levels of salt and potassium, which are important minerals needed by the body.

The following may help cancer patients control diarrhea:

  • Eat broth, soups, bananas, and canned fruits to help replace salt and potassium lost by diarrhea. Sports drinks can also help.
  • Drink plenty of fluids during the day. Liquids at room temperature may cause fewer problems than hot or cold liquids.
  • Drink at least one cup of liquid after each loose bowel movement.
  • Stay away from the following:
    • Greasy foods, hot or cold liquids, or caffeine.
    • High-fiber foods—especially dried beans and cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage).
    • Milk and milk products, until the cause of the diarrhea is known.
    • Foods and beverages that cause gas (such as peas, lentils, cruciferous vegetables, chewing gum, and soda).
    • Sugar-free candies or gum made with sorbitol (sugar alcohol).

See the Dehydration (Lack of Fluid) section for more information.

Low White Blood Cell Counts and Infections

A low white blood cell count may be caused by radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or the cancer itself. Patients who have a low white blood cell count have an increased risk of infection. The following may help cancer patients prevent infections when white blood cell counts are low:

  • Stay away from:
    • Raw eggs or raw fish.
    • Old, moldy, or damaged fruits and vegetables.
    • Food sold in open bins or containers.
    • Salad bars and buffets when eating out.
  • Wash hands often to prevent the spread of bacteria.
  • Thaw foods in the refrigerator or microwave. Never thaw foods at room temperature. Cook foods immediately after thawing.
  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
  • Cook all meat, poultry, and fish until well done.
  • Refrigerate all leftovers within 2 hours of cooking and eat them within 24 hours.
  • Buy foods packed as single servings, to avoid leftovers.
  • Do not buy or eat food that is out of date.
  • Do not buy or eat food in cans that are swollen, dented, or damaged.
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WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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