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 Problems with Appetite caused by
Cancer and Chemotherapy

There are a number of reasons that eating problems, including loss of hunger and appetite, develop during cancer treatments such as chemotherapy. There are three general groups these problems can be broken down into. The psychological trauma and stress caused by having cancer can be a major cause of decreased appetite.   Chemotherapy’s direct major side effects such as appetite suppression, loss of hunger, and frequent nausea are the second reason that problems occur while undergoing cancer treatment. Finally, cancer of the throat and mouth where food consumption would be physically hampered is the final reason for difficulty during cancer treatments. Adequate nutrition is vital to the successful outcome of treatment meaning all three causes should be monitored closely by the physician, patient, family and friends.

Extreme emotions of anxiety, depression, anger and fear are normal for patients during cancer treatments such as chemotherapy. These emotions are typically present during the treatment of cancer and can all result in malnutrition since patients can become preoccupied with the cancer itself as a result of their emotions. It is vital for the physician to inform the patient of nutrition’s importance during treatment. There are a few things that contribute to the success or failure of chemotherapy  the way that maintaining proper nutrition in patients can. Family and friends should intervene when patients do not want to eat during low emotional states when they are not feeling hungry. One of the support team’s goals should be encouraging patients to eat regular, nutritious meals in addition to dealing with the care of their children through difficult times and handling transportation to treatment. This becomes increasingly important when patients enter into long periods of fear or depression when they do not feel like eating.

There are a number of physical factor in addition to the psychological factors caused by chemotherapy that have to be overcame in order to maintain proper nutrition. Healthy cells such as those in the hair and digestive system are affected by both radiation and chemotherapy since the purpose of those treatments is to target cells that are rapidly dividing. The two most common side effects of these treatments are severe nausea and hair loss as a result. The nausea is temporary and there will times when the patient is physically unable to keep food down.

Focus on the good times and ensure nutritious meals containing large amounts of carbohydrates, vitamins and protein are eaten during this time. It may not be possible to have regular meals so trying to have complete, nutritious meals readily available for when the nausea ends and the patient has hunger and a good appetite. There are a number of chemotherapy patients that say mornings are the best time to eat because it is when the nausea is not as strong. Making a large meal that only has to be reheated in the morning is the easiest way to prepare for meals at night ahead of time. Do not expect to eat at the same time everyone else does instead eat around the periods of nausea.




Cancer being in a location that prevents eating normally is the final reason that difficulty with eating is experienced during cancer. The steps required to ensure proper nutrition is maintained will be guided by your physician. Eating as varied of a diet as possible will ensure a wide range of vitamins and minerals are being consumed in addition to carbohydrates and protein; following the directions carefully is vital.


A major part of the patient’s life will be the cancer and chemotherapy. The problems associated with diet, eating and nutrition while undergoing chemotherapy have been documented well and can be overcome by a good support team and proper care. This includes planning meals, eating nutritiously when having times without nausua and having family and friends encourage eating during emotional down times.   Very few things affect the success of the chemotherapy and cancer treatment as maintaining proper nutrition.



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