Appetite Loss and Cancer

Updated at: Jan 14, 2013
Appetite Loss and Cancer

Appetite loss is a common problem faced by the cancer patients. During the course of treatment most of cancer patients don't feel like eating much, the problem must be given due consideration and must be worked upon.

Editorial Team
CancerWritten by: Editorial TeamPublished at: Jan 14, 2013

What it is ?

Appetite Loss is when you do not want to eat or do not feel like eating very much. It is a common problem that occurs with cancer and its treatment. You may have appetite loss for just 1 or 2 days, or throughout your course of treatment.

Why it happens ?

No one knows just what causes appetite loss. Reasons may include:

  •   The cancer itself
  •   Fatigue
  •   Pain
  •   Feelings such as stress, fear, depression, and anxiety
  •   Cancer treatment side effects such as nausea, vomiting, or changes in how foods taste or smell


Ways to manage with food


  • When it is hard to eat, drink a liquid or powdered meal replacement (such as “instant breakfast”).
  • Eat 5 or 6 small meals each day instead of 3 large meals. You may find it helps to eat smaller amounts at one time. This can also keep you from feeling too full.
  • Keep snacks nearby for when you feel like eating. Take easy-to-carry snacks such as peanut butter crackers, nuts, granola bars, or dried fruit when you go out. See more quick and easy snack ideas.
  • Add extra protein and calories to your diet. See ways to add protein and ways to add calories.
  • Drink liquids throughout the day—even when you do not want to eat. Choose liquids that add calories and other nutrients. These include juice, soup, and milk and soy-based drinks with protein. See the lists of clear liquids and full-liquid foods.
  • Eat a bedtime snack. This will give extra calories but won’t affect your appetite for the next meal.
  • Change the form of a food. For instance, you might make a fruit milkshake instead of eating a piece of fruit. Try the recipe for Banana Milkshake.
  • Eat soft, cool, or frozen foods. These include yogurt, milkshakes, and popsicles.
  • Eat larger meals when you feel well and are rested. For many people, this is in the morning after a good night’s sleep.
  • Sip only small amounts of liquids during meals. Many people feel too full if they eat and drink at the same time. If you want more than just small sips, have a larger drink at least 30 minutes before or after meals.

Other ways to manage

  • Talk with a dietitian. He or she can discuss ways to get enough calories and protein even when you do not feel like eating.
  • Try to have relaxed and pleasant meals. This includes being with people you enjoy as well as having foods that look good to eat.
  • Exercise. Being active can help improve your appetite. Studies show that many people with cancer feel better when they get some exercise each day.
  • Talk with your nurse or social worker if fear, depression, or other feelings affect your appetite or interest in food. He or she can suggest ways to help.
  • Tell your doctor if you are having nausea, vomiting, or changes in how foods taste or smell. Your doctor can help control these problems so that you feel more like eating.


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