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Taking anti-cancer drugs affects the entire body. Patients change their taste, become overly sensitive to smells or disgust with food. And yet the diet is supposed to be helpful in the fight against the disease. Find out what a proper diet should look like in cancer. What can a sick person eat? See an example menu.


  1. Cancer Cachexia Syndrome
  2. Diet in cancer diseases - nutritional requirements
  3. Diet in cancer diseases - wholesome protein
  4. Diet in cancer diseases - complex carbohydrates
  5. Diet in cancer diseases - good quality fats
  6. Diet in cancer diseases - vegetables and fruits as a source of antioxidants
  7. Diet in cancer - what to drink?
  8. Diet in cancer - how often do you eat?
  9. Diet in cancer - how to prepare meals
  10. Diet in neoplastic diseases - supplementation
  11. Diet modifications depending on the symptoms accompanying the disease
  12. Diet in neoplastic diseases - sample menu

Diet in neoplastic diseasesplays an important role in supporting the treatment process and prevents the patient from malnutrition. It is also important that it supports the immune system, improves metabolism and supports the regeneration of the body after radiotherapy and / or chemotherapy. Therefore, appropriate nutrition should be introduced at the time of diagnosis and modified at various stages of treatment.

Cancer Cachexia Syndrome

Most people with cancer experience reduced ability to eat and absorb nutrients. Therefore, they very often develop neoplastic cachexia syndrome, which is manifested by a sharp loss of body weight, an eating disorder and a feeling of being quickly satiated after a meal.

Cancer cachexia affects mainly patients struggling with cancers of the esophagus, pancreas, stomach, colon, lung, prostate and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Symptoms of malnutrition or neoplastic cachexia concern 30-85% of patients, and in 5-20% they are the cause of death in the terminal stage of the disease.

Cancer cachexiait is the result of a systemic inflammatory reaction in response to the presence of cancer cells in the body. The onset of neoplastic cachexia may be indicated by 5% or more weight loss over 3-6 months.

Body weight is assessed using the BMI index. However, it may not be reliable in the presence of edema. Therefore, nutritional status is best assessed by measuring prealbumin, albumin and transferrin in the blood.

Food intake problems can be exacerbated by radiation and / or chemotherapy, which causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Some cancers may have the opposite effect of gaining weight. It is often the result of the hormone therapy used, for example in breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and uterine cancer. While treating cancer, weight reduction is not recommended but should be monitored. After the end of treatment and remission of the disease, weight reduction should be started, preferably under the supervision of a specialist.

Diet in cancer diseases - nutritional requirements

There is no one universal diet for cancer. It must always be individualized depending on the type and stage of neoplasm, type of complications after treatment, age, nutritional status of the patient and his food preferences.

It should also provide all essential ingredients such as amino acids, fats, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins. People with cancer can require up to 20% more energy and nutrients than he althy people.

Therefore, it is extremely important to meet this demand, because otherwise the body will start to use resources from its own tissues, leading to neoplastic cachexia. Nutritional requirements should be calculated individually, e.g. using the formula for the ideal body weight.

Diet in cancer diseases - wholesome protein

People suffering from cancer have an increased need for protein, as it is necessary for the rebuilding of organs damaged by cancer and the regeneration of tissues after treatment. The immune system is especially sensitive to protein deficiency in the diet. Adequate supply of protein in the diet also protects the body against the mobilization of internal protein resources, e.g. from skeletal muscles. Therefore, the use of restrictive diets eliminating protein in people with cancer is unacceptable.

The consumption of protein in the diet of people with cancer should amount to 15-20% of the energy requirement (in he althy people it is 10-15%). The proportion of vegetable protein derived, for example, from legumes to animal protein should bebe 1: 1 (for he althy people it is 2: 1).

In the case of intolerance to legumes, eliminate them temporarily from the diet, especially in the case of cancers of the digestive tract. People with cancer need wholesome and better digestible protein.

Therefore, choose lean meats (chicken, turkey, veal), fish and avoid highly processed cured and smoked meats. It is best to prepare them yourself at home, e.g. turkey breast seasoned with your favorite spices and roast it at low temperature. Eggs and lean dairy products such as cottage cheese, yoghurt and kefir are also a good source of wholesome protein. However, a good source of vegetable protein is e.g. tofu.

If there are symptoms of lactose intolerance (diarrhea, flatulence) after consuming milk, they should be ruled out and replaced with fermented products, as they contain practically no lactose. Goat's milk is lower in lactose and may be better tolerated. Lactose intolerance may develop after treatment with cytostatics (e.g. 5-fluorouracil) or radiotherapy of the abdominal and pelvic area.

Diet in cancer diseases - complex carbohydrates

Carbohydrates should constitute 35-50% of energy consumed by people with cancer, and their recommended source is whole grain groats, rice, bread, vegetables and fruit. Remember that with a high-fiber diet you should increase the water supply (6-8 glasses / day).

After surgery or radiation therapy in the abdomen, large amounts of dietary fiber may be intolerable, causing gas and abdominal pain. In such cases, you should limit whole grains until the digestive system begins to function properly.

It is absolutely necessary to limit the simple sugars that can be found in cookies, cakes and bars. They are low in nutritional value and can aggravate gastrointestinal symptoms such as flatulence and diarrhea.

Diet in cancer diseases - good quality fats

Fats should account for 30-50% of the energy requirement of a person with cancer. The recommended source of fats are good quality fats such as unrefined oils, e.g. olive oil, linseed oil, sea fish, seeds and nuts. You should limit very fatty meats (pork), offal, cheese and lard as these are sources of saturated fatty acids.

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which the body cannot produce itself, have a particularly beneficial effect on the immune processes. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are contained in linseed oil, nuts, fatty sea fish (mackerel, herring,sardines).

Diet in cancer diseases - vegetables and fruits as a source of antioxidants

In addition to the increased energy requirement during cancer, the need for antioxidant substances such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, selenium and copper, which neutralize free radicals, increases. They are found in fresh, colorful vegetables and fruits, the consumption of which should be at least 0.5 kg per day.

Dark fruits like blueberries, blueberries, dark grapes, raspberries are rich in antioxidants.

In people with cancer, be careful with legumes, cruciferous and onion vegetables. If they are followed by malaise, they should be avoided in the diet.

Vegetables due to their high nutritional value should be eaten with every meal, preferably raw. However, when you feel unwell after eating raw vegetables, introduce them boiled, baked in foil, steamed or stewed. Avoid frying and baking at high temperatures.

Diet in cancer - what to drink?

In cancer, it is recommended to drink about 2 liters of fluids a day, depending on body weight. Preferably in the form of mineral still water or weak tea infusions.

You can also drink diluted, freshly squeezed vegetable juices and fruit juices, but remember that they contain a lot of simple sugars. Coffee is not forbidden as long as there are no symptoms after consumption. It is not recommended to consume alcohol.

Drinks should be consumed between meals, not during them, as they make you feel full faster. This is especially important in patients with a lack of appetite.

Diet in cancer - how often do you eat?

The patient should eat meals every 3-4 hours, which in total includes 4-5 meals a day: 1st breakfast, 2nd breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and supper. Portions should be small but nutritious and rich in a variety of foods. Monotonous single-ingredient dishes should be avoided, e.g. eating the same dish several times a day.

Diet in cancer - how to prepare meals

Cooking, stewing or steaming is the preferred treatment. Avoid fried and heavily grilled dishes. People with cancer often have problems with appetite, therefore the appearance of the dishes is also important. Dishes should encourage their consumption and not contain products that the patient does not like.

You should not avoid delicate spices such as basil, oregano, marjoram. Instead, it should be avoidedhot spices such as chili, pepper.

If the patient has no problems with eating, there is no need to give him liquid or pasty food. This form of nutrition is usually used in patients after surgery of tumors in the gastrointestinal tract.

If it is not possible to eat food naturally (orally), enteral or parenteral nutrition is used.

Diet in neoplastic diseases - supplementation

Supplementation should be used only in selected clinical cases, when there are malabsorption and obvious nutrient deficiencies. This is especially important in patients with gastrointestinal neoplasms.

Therefore, the use of dietary supplements in the form of multivitamins is not routinely recommended. Remember that their best digestible source is fruit and vegetables.

Oral nutritional supplements (ONS) may be considered if the patient is unable to eat enough food and cover all nutritional requirements.

Such preparations can replace a wholesome meal or be an addition to a meal during the day. Before using such preparations, the patient should consult the attending physician or a dietitian.

Diet modifications depending on the symptoms accompanying the disease

Cancerous cachexia is the cause of eating disorders and the emergence of rapid satiety after a meal. In addition, chemotherapy and radiotherapy affect receptors in the brain and gastrointestinal tract, causing nausea and vomiting. This may additionally disturb the process of appetite and food intake by the sick person.

Therefore, people suffering from neoplastic diseases may experience various symptoms that make it difficult to eat food naturally. Therefore, one of the most important elements of individualising the diet in cancer patients is taking into account accompanying symptoms.

In case of nausea, it is worth increasing the frequency of consumed meals. Portions should be small and cool with no intense aromas that could aggravate nausea. We recommend soups, creams, fruit and vegetable cocktails, sorbets, porridges.

In diarrhea, it is recommended to BRAT diet (B - bananas, R - white rice, A - baked / boiled apples, T - wheat toast). Additionally, water and electrolytes should be topped up.

People with cancer may also develop constipation. In this case, it is recommended to increase the intake of dietary fiber and fluid.

They appear in the head and neck areas after radiotherapyradiation reactions on the mucous membranes, which are exposed to irritants. In such a situation, the patient should avoid consuming acidic products, e.g. fruit juices and spicy ones, e.g. pepper.

General nutritional recommendations for people with cancer:

  • Eat varied, tasty and aesthetically presented dishes
  • Add a source of wholesome protein to each meal
  • Eat complex carbohydrates, the source of which should be whole grains, vegetables and fruits that you tolerate well
  • Remember that vegetables and fruits are also a source of antioxidants and dietary fiber
  • Consume good quality fats from fish, unrefined oils, seeds and nuts
  • Eat 4-5 meals a day with 3-4 hours breaks
  • Prepare products boiled, foil-baked, steamed or stewed
  • Eat your meals at the optimal temperature (neither too hot nor too cold)
  • Drink about 2 liters of fluid a day, preferably in the form of still mineral water

Remember that there are no miracle diets that can replace drug therapy. The purpose of nutrition during cancer is to increase the chances of a cure and gain the energy necessary to fight the disease.

Diet in neoplastic diseases - sample menu

The menu for the patient should be prepared by a dietitian individually for the patient's needs, taking into account the patient's age, energy requirements and nutritional preferences.

It should also be modified depending on the current state of he alth of the patient. Below is an example menu for a 64-year-old woman weighing 62 kg and height 175 cm with diagnosed breast cancer without signs of malnutrition.

Day I

  • And Breakfast
    • 1 package (200 g) of grani cottage cheese
    • 2 slices of sourdough rye bread
    • 2 fresh tomatoes
    • 3 teaspoons of fresh parsley
  • 2nd Breakfast
    • 1 package (200 g) of Greek yoghurt
    • ¾ cups of blueberries
    • 2 Brazil nuts
  • Lunch
    • pollock fillet (150 g)
    • 1 zucchini
    • 1 carrot
    • 1 small celery
    • 2 teaspoons olive oil
    • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
    • 1 cup of cooked barley groats

Vegetables cut into strips or cubes, s alt the fish and season with your favorite spices. Add a little water to the pot and stewvegetables covered until tender. Then add the chopped fish and simmer for a few more minutes. Finally, add two tablespoons of olive oil and parsley. Serve the dish with cooked barley.

  • Afternoon tea
    • 1/3 cups of dry millet
    • ¾ cups of blueberries
    • ½ glasses of coconut milk
    • ½ glasses of water
    • 4 walnuts

Pour coconut milk and water into a pot. Rinse the millet under running water, then put it into a pot with coconut milk and water. Boil until tender, stirring all the time so that the groats do not burn. Then cool the groats, add the blueberry and chopped walnuts.

  • Dinner
    • 1 small avocado
    • 2 slices of turkey ham
    • 1 tomato
    • 1 small greenhouse cucumber
    • 2 slices of sourdough rye bread

Day II

  • And Breakfast
    • 2 hard-boiled eggs
    • 2 slices of buckwheat bread
    • 2 handfuls of alfalfa sprouts (50 g)
    • 1 small greenhouse cucumber
    • a teaspoon of butter for spreading on bread
  • 2nd Breakfast
    • 1 banana
    • 6 pecans
    • ½ glasses of coconut milk

Mix the banana with coconut milk and sprinkle with chopped pecans.

  • Lunch
    • minced veal (100 g)
    • 1 zucchini
    • 1 carrot
    • 1 small celery
    • 2 teaspoons olive oil
    • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
    • 1 cup of cooked buckwheat
    • 4 pickled cucumbers

Grate vegetables into thicker stripes. Season the meat with s alt, season with your favorite spices and form into meatballs. Pour 0.5 liters of water into a pot and cook the vegetables until tender. Then add the meatballs and cook for a few more minutes until the sauce is reduced. Finally, add two tablespoons of olive oil and parsley. Serve the dish with cooked buckwheat and pickled cucumbers.

  • Afternoon tea
    • 1/3 cups of dry millet
    • 1 egg
    • ¾ glasses of raspberries
    • 2 teaspoons rapeseed oil
    • 1 tablespoon of wheat flour

Rinse the millet under running water, then cook until tender. Cool the groats and add flour, egg and rapeseed oil to it. Mix the ingredients thoroughly. Form pancakes on a baking tray covered with paper (or aluminum foil) and bake at 180 ° C for about 15-20 minutes. Blend raspberries and pour overthem pancakes.

  • Dinner
    • 2 tablespoons of tuna in gravy
    • 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise
    • 1 whole red pepper
    • 1 tomato
    • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
    • 2 slices of sourdough rye bread

Mix tuna with mayonnaise and parsley and season with s alt. Brush the slices of bread with the paste.


  • And Breakfast
    • 2 cans of tomatoes
    • 3 medium sized carrots
    • 2 celery sprigs
    • 2 medium sized parsley
    • 1 skinless chicken thigh
    • 2 teaspoons Greek yogurt
    • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
    • allspice, bay leaf, oregano

Pour the leg, carrot, celery and parsley with cold water, add allspice and bay leaf and cook for about 30 minutes. Then add the tinned tomatoes and oregano. Cook for about 20 minutes. Take the leg out of the soup and peel the meat. Mix the soup with a blender until smooth. Add peeled chicken meat and Greek yogurt. You can prepare the soup the day before.

  • 2nd Breakfast
    • cup (200 g) of Greek yogurt
    • ¾ cups of blueberries
    • 1 tablespoon of almonds
    • 2 teaspoons sesame
  • Lunch
    • salmon (100 g)
    • ½ red pepper
    • 1 zucchini
    • 1 carrot
    • 2 large oyster mushrooms
    • 1 teaspoon olive oil
    • 1 cup of cooked brown rice

Season the salmon with s alt and wrap in aluminum foil. Separately, s alt the vegetables and oyster mushrooms, pour olive oil, sprinkle with your favorite herbs and wrap in aluminum foil. Bake the vegetables and salmon in the oven at 200 ° C for about 20 minutes. Serve with cooked brown rice.

  • Afternoon tea
    • ¼ cup (50g) tapioca granules
    • 1 cup of blueberries
    • 1 cup of soy milk

Pour the soy milk and tapioca granules into a pot. Cook over very low heat for about 30 minutes, stirring constantly. You can add some water if necessary. After cooking, put the tapioca into a bowl and chill. Blend the berries and pour them over the tapioca.

  • Dinner
    • 2 slices of turkey ham
    • ½ lettuce mix packaging
    • 1 teaspoon of linseed oil
    • 2 slices of buckwheat bread
About the authorKarolina Karabin, MD, PhD, molecular biologist, laboratory diagnostician, Cambridge Diagnostics Polska A biologist by profession, specializing in microbiology, and a laboratory diagnostician with over10 years of experience in laboratory work. A graduate of the College of Molecular Medicine and a member of the Polish Society of Human Genetics. Head of research grants at the Laboratory of Molecular Diagnostics at the Department of Hematology, Oncology and Internal Diseases of the Medical University of Warsaw. She defended the title of doctor of medical sciences in the field of medical biology at the 1st Faculty of Medicine of the Medical University of Warsaw. Author of many scientific and popular science works in the field of laboratory diagnostics, molecular biology and nutrition. On a daily basis, as a specialist in the field of laboratory diagnostics, he runs the content department at Cambridge Diagnostics Polska and cooperates with a team of nutritionists at the CD Dietary Clinic. He shares his practical knowledge on diagnostics and diet therapy of diseases with specialists at conferences, training sessions, and in magazines and websites. She is particularly interested in the influence of modern lifestyle on molecular processes in the body.

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