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Cancer Health Center

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


Radiation therapy may also cause tiredness, which can lead to a decrease in appetite.

Nutrition therapy can help relieve the nutrition problems caused by radiation therapy.

Nutrition therapy during radiation treatment can help the patient get enough protein and calories to get through treatment, prevent weight loss, help wound and skin healing, and maintain general health. Nutrition therapy may include the following:

  • Nutritional supplement drinks between meals.
  • Enteral nutrition (tube feedings).
  • Changes in the diet, such as eating small meals throughout the day.

Patients who receive high-dose radiation therapy to prepare for a bone marrow transplant may have many nutrition problems and should see a dietitian for nutrition support.

See the Stem Cell Transplant and Nutrition section for more information.

Biologic Therapy and Nutrition

Biologic therapy may affect nutrition.

The side effects of biologic therapy are different for each patient and each type of biologic agent. The following nutrition problems are common:

  • Fever.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Tiredness.
  • Weight gain.

Nutrition therapy can help relieve nutrition problems caused by biologic therapy.

The side effects of biologic therapy can cause weight loss and malnutrition if they are not treated. Nutrition therapy can help patients receiving biologic therapy get the nutrients they need to get through treatment, prevent weight loss, and maintain general health.

Stem Cell Transplant and Nutrition

Stem cell transplant patients have special nutrition needs.

Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and medicines used for a stem cell transplant may cause side effects that keep a patient from eating and digesting food as usual. Common side effects include the following:

  • Changes in the way food tastes.
  • Dry mouth or thick saliva.
  • Mouth and throat sores.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Constipation.
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite.
  • Weight gain.

Nutrition therapy is very important for patients who have a stem cell transplant.

Transplant patients have a very high risk of infection. High doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy decrease the number of white blood cells, which fight infection. It is especially important that transplant patients avoid getting infections.

Patients who have a transplant need plenty of protein and calories to get through and recover from the treatment, prevent weight loss, fight infection, and maintain general health. It is also important to avoid infection from bacteria in food. Nutrition therapy during transplant treatment may include the following:

  • A diet of cooked and processed foods only, because raw vegetables and fresh fruit may carry harmful bacteria.
  • Guidelines on safe food handling.
  • A specific diet based on the type of transplant and the part of the body affected by cancer.
  • Parenteral nutrition (feeding through the bloodstream) during the first few weeks after the transplant, to give the patient the calories, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fluids they need to recover.

See the Low White Blood Cell Counts and Infections section for more information.

This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: May 28, 2015
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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