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Living well with cancer health centre

Eating well during cancer treatment


WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

When you're being treated for cancer, it's more important than ever to eat a healthy diet and get good nutrition, but it can also be more difficult than ever. Your body is working overtime to fight the cancer, while it's also doing extra work to repair healthy cells that may have been damaged as a side effect of treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy. At the same time, many cancer treatments, especially chemotherapy, come with side effects that drain your strength and deplete your appetite. So how can you make sure you're getting all the essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals you need?

You might assume the answer lies in vitamin supplements. After all, if you're having trouble keeping food down, wouldn't it be easier to get nutrients from a simple capsule? Not necessarily - and talk to your doctors first. Cancer Research UK says some doctors worry about patients taking anything that boosts the immune system while they are having cancer treatment. The charity says antioxidant supplements such as co enzyme Q10, selenium and vitamins A, C and E can help to prevent cell damage. However, it cautions that some doctors think that chemotherapy may work less well if you are taking anything that helps cells to recover, but at the moment there is not enough evidence to know for certain.

Get vitamins in food, not capsules

Instead, say experts, focus on what you need most now: calories. When you're being treated for cancer, taking in enough calories to maintain your strength and keep your body going is more important than almost everything else.

Macmillan Cancer Support says many people with cancer find there are times when they can't eat as much as usual, leading to weight loss.  The charity offers a range of tips and recipes to help make sure you get all the nutrients you need.

Don't lose out on liquids

Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy can leave you dehydrated. Some drugs can also cause kidney damage if they're not flushed out of your system, so during cancer treatment, it's particularly important to get enough fluids. 

Chemotherapy can sometimes make water taste strange, so try other soft drinks.

Reviewed on August 15, 2013

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