Eating After Cancer Treatment

Sometimes, eating problems persist even after cancer treatment is over.

Most eating-related side effects associated with radiation, chemotherapy, or other treatments go away after cancer treatment ends. If you have had side effects, you should gradually begin to feel better, and your interest in food and mealtimes will come back. Sometimes, though, side effects persist, especially weight loss. If this happens to you, talk to your doctor and work out a plan together for how to address the problem.

After cancer treatment ends and you’re feeling better, you may want to think again about the traditional guidelines for healthy eating. Just as you wanted to go into treatment with all the reserves that such a diet could give you, you’ll want to do the best for yourself at this important time. There’s no current research that suggests that the foods you eat will prevent your cancer from recurring. But, we do know that eating right will help you regain your strength, rebuild tissue, and help you feel well. Here are the fundamentals:

  • Focus on eating a variety of foods every day. No one food contains all the nutrients you need.
  • Emphasize fruits and vegetables. Raw or cooked vegetables, fruits, and fruit juices provide the vitamins, minerals, and fiber you need.
  • Emphasize breads and cereals, especially the whole grain varieties, such as whole wheat bread, oats, and brown rice. These foods are good sources of complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, and fiber.
  • Go easy on fat, salt, sugar, alcohol, and smoked or pickled foods. Choose low-fat milk products, and small portions (no more than 6-7 oz. a day) of lean meat and poultry without skin. Try lower-fat cooking methods, such as broiling, steaming, and poaching.

Some patients need to have treatments that last a long time. Others may have surgery to remove part of their stomach or intestines. These patients may have ongoing eating-related concerns. If this is your situation, talk to your doctor and a registered dietitian. He or she can give you more information about the long-term issues that you will deal with and can help you develop an individual diet plan.

Ways to Get Back Into Eating

Even if your treatment is over and you’re feeling much better, you still may not feel completely back to your old self. Here are some ways to help you ease back to regular meals and mealtimes, without overdoing it:

  • Make simple meals using familiar, easy-to-prepare recipes.
  • Cook enough for two or three meals, then freeze the remainder for a later meal.
  • Take advantage of the supermarket’s salad bar and prepared foods to make cooking easier.
  • Think about ways you used to make mealtime special and try them again.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask a friend or family member for help with cooking or shopping.

© Copyright FamilyCare America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Reprinted from Eating Hints For Cancer Patients Before, During, and After Treatment, NIH Publication #98-2079, developedby the United States National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute.

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