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How to Eat After Gastric Cancer Surgery

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on October 01, 2021

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 Will You Handle Food After Stomach Surgery?

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 for Eating After Gastric Cancer Surgery

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.

 

What If I’m Concerned About Losing Weight?

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.

If your doctor says you need to get more calories, these strategies will help. As mentioned earlier, watch the sugar until you know how your body will react.

  • Swap low-calorie foods for high-calorie alternatives. Choose drinks like hot chocolate, shakes, and fruit juice instead of water, tea, or diet sodas. Put heavy cream in your coffee instead of milk. Add butter, oil, margarine, sauces, salad dressing, sour cream, and peanut butter to foods when you can.
  • Have ready-to-eat options on hand. You may not have a lot of energy for cooking right now. At home and work, keep high-calorie foods nearby, like cheese, nuts, or dried or canned fruit.
  • Don't fill up on liquids. If you drink too much during meals, you may not be hungry enough for the calories you need. Instead, try to drink 30 minutes before or after your meal.
  • Ask your doctor about nutritional shakes. They can be a good way to increase the number of calories you take in. You may find that drinking is easier than eating at first.

 

Work With a Dietitian

Your doctor will be a key resource about how to adjust your diet. But it's a great idea to work with a dietitian, too.

Dietitians can offer advice that's tailored to your needs. They can suggest strategies on how to eat during and after treatment. If you don't already have a dietitian on your treatment team, ask your doctor for a recommendation.

Show Sources

SOURCES: 

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

National Health Service (U.K.): “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,” "Eating Well During and After Your Cancer Treatment."

University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center: "Meeting with a Dietitian During Cancer Treatment: What to Expect."

Cancer Research U.K.: "Stomach Cancer and Weight Loss," "Boosting Energy and Protein in Everyday Foods."

American Cancer Society: "Lifestyle Changes After Stomach Cancer."

Mayo Clinic: "No appetite? How to get nutrition during cancer treatment."

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Nutrition During and After Cancer Treatment."

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