How to Eat After Gastric Cancer Surgery

Medically Reviewed by Kumar Shital, DO on July 14, 2020

Having some or all of your stomach removed to take out cancer, in a surgery called gastrectomy, means that you’ll have to take extra care about not only what you eat and drink, but also when you eat and drink.

Before surgery, the nausea that often comes with chemotherapy probably hurt your appetite and led to weight loss.

Gastric cancer surgery also is life-changing. And though it may take a year or two, your body will adjust to not having a stomach.

Just after your surgery, you’ll spend about 5 days in the hospital recovering. Until you’re back to eating through your mouth, you may get nutrients through an IV that goes into a vein, or through a tube that goes into your abdomen.

You’ll likely be able to start a liquid diet several days after surgery and move to a light diet about a week after surgery.

How You’ll Handle Food

Normally, your stomach holds food and kicks off digestion. Foods then pass from the stomach to the duodenum, the first part of your small intestine. If these things don’t happen, food isn’t digested as well.

Also, if the valve that controls how food exits your stomach into your small intestine is removed, food will pass through your system quicker and you won’t absorb as many nutrients as before.

As you recover, you’ll probably find that a smaller or absent stomach means that you feel full faster. Your body may process some foods differently. Sugar, for example, can cause something called dumping syndrome, where extra water is drawn into your stomach or small intestine and food speeds through your digestive system.

Symptoms include cramping and diarrhea. They can start within 20 minutes of eating. People who weren’t lactose intolerant before surgery may become so. Fat may be harder to digest, too.

Dos and Don’ts

There are changes you can make to ease the transition.

  • Rather than eating three meals a day, split your food into smaller, more frequent meals.
  • Chew your food well and eat slowly.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (eight to ten 8-ounce glasses per day), but try not to drink too much during or around mealtime. Cut out carbonated drinks like soda.
  • When the time comes, add sugar, fats, and dairy back slowly. These may cause problems you didn’t have before surgery.
  • Don’t eat a lot of fiber. It can make you full and uncomfortable.
  • Try to limit caffeine and avoid alcohol
  • Try to keep a food diary. It can help you figure out patterns and lessen problems.
  • Focus on foods that are high-calorie, nutrient-dense, and low in sugar.

If you’re losing weight or worried you aren’t getting a balanced diet, vitamin and mineral supplements may help, especially if you’ve had a total gastrectomy. Talk with your doctor about it.

If your entire stomach has been removed, you will probably need regular injections of vitamin B12. But if you’ve had only part of it removed, choose foods high in iron, calcium, vitamin C, and vitamin D. Blood tests can help you and your doctor know if your nutrition is on point.

WebMD Medical Reference



No Stomach for Cancer: “Total Gastrectomy (Complete removal of the stomach),” “Nutrition After Gastrectomy.”

National Health Service (UK): “Recovering after a gastrectomy.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Gastrectomy: Recovery,” “Post-Gastrectomy Syndrome.”

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: “Eating After Your Gastrectomy or Esophagogastrectomy,” “About Your Gastrectomy Surgery.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Click to view privacy policy and trust info