Loss of appetite and cancer treatment

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Cancer treatments and side effects may affect your appetite. Learn about what you can do if you've lost your appetite.

Key points

  • Your appetite may be affected because of nausea, foods taste different, or because of stress and worry.
  • If you've lost your appetite, you can: talk to your health-care team; eat nutritious foods when you do feel hungry; and keep track of what you think is causing your loss of appetite.

Your appetite is what makes you hungry and drives you to want to eat through the day. You may find that you don’t really feel like eating because of your treatment and side effects such as nausea and vomiting. Or you may find that foods you used to really like taste different now – usually because of the chemotherapy treatment. Even stress and worry can cause you to lose your appetite. All these issues can be a problem because your body needs food and fuel to help fight the cancer and tolerate the treatment.

What can I do if I’ve lost my appetite?

  • When you feel like eating, choose good, high calorie foods such as meat, higher-fat dairy, and whole grains to make sure you’re still getting as much nutrition as possible.
  • Add protein powder to soups and sauces to give a boost of calories. Cheese is also a great addition to meals to add some calories.
  • Sip on water or other fluids throughout the day to avoid getting dehydrated. As well as drinking water, try to choose drinks that have calories such as milk, juice, and smoothies.
  • Eat whenever you feel hungry; don’t wait for set meal times! Take advantage whenever you feel like eating. Some people find that eating six small meals instead of three big meals a day works well.
  • Take note of whatever is causing your loss of appetite, such as pain or nausea.
  • Ask your parents to stock up on foods that you like so that there are always plenty of food choices when you do get hungry.
  • Talk to your dietitian, nurse or doctor about your appetite. They’ll have lots of great ideas about what foods to eat to make sure you’re still getting proper nutrition.
  • If you notice that foods don’t taste how they did before your treatment, try new foods. Lots of people find that they enjoy highly flavoured or tangy foods when their sense of taste changes. Consider strong cheese, lemonade, olives, pickles, tangy sauces like barbeque, spicy sausages, curries, and foods with added flavours.
  • Take a look at the page called Eating well for health for other great ideas on what to eat.
Last updated: September 3rd 2019