More boys with cancer being diagnosed than girls in India: Lancet study
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Doctors know that patients who eat well during cancer treatment are better able to cope with side-effects caused by the treatment.

All the methods of treating cancer, including surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and biological therapy (immunotherapy), are very powerful. Although treatments target cancer cells in the body, they can sometimes damage normal, healthy cells at the same time. This may produce unpleasant side effects that cause eating problems.


Loss of appetite or poor appetite is one of the most common problems that occur with cancer and its treatment. Many things affect appetite, including feeling sick (having nausea, vomiting) and being upset or depressed about having cancer. A person who has these feelings, whether physical or emotional, may not be interested in eating.

The patients may find the following suggestions helpful in making mealtimes more relaxed so that they can eat more. The patient’s should:

  1. Stay calm, especially at mealtimes, and not hurry over meals 
  2. Be involved in as many normal activities as possible. But if uneasy and does not want to take part, should not do it per force.
  3. Try changing the time, place, and surrounding for meals. A candle light dinner can make mealtimes more appealing. The patients could set a colourful table and listen to soft music while eating, eat with others or watch their favourite TV programme while eating.
  4. Eat whenever hungry. You need not eat just three main meals a days. Several small meals throughout the day may be even better.
  5. Add variety to the menu.
  6. Eat food often during the day, even at bed time. Have healthy snacks handy. Taking just a few bites of the right foods or sips of the right liquids every hour or so can help get more protein and calories.


Patient’s sense of taste or smell may change during the illness or treatment. A condition called mouth blindness or taste blindness may give foods a bitter or metallic taste, especially meat or other high protein foods. Many food will have less taste. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or the cancer itself many cause these problems. Dental problems can also change the way foods taste better. The patients should:

  1. Choose and prepare foods that look and smell good.
  2. If red meat (such as mutton) tastes or smells strange, use chicken, eggs dairy products, or fish that doesn’t have a strong smell instead.
  3. Help the flavour of meat, chicken, or fish by marinating it in sweet fruit juices, sweet wine or sweet– and – sour sauce.
  4. Try using small amounts of flavourful seasoning
  5. Try tart foods such as oranges or lemonade that may have more taste. A tart lemon custard might taste good and will also provide needed protein and calories. (This should not be fried if patients has a sore mouth or throat).
  6. Serve foods at room temperature.
  7. Try using tomatoes or onion to add flavour to vegetables
  8. Stop eating foods that cause an unpleasant taste.
  9. Visit the dentist to rule out dental problems that may affect the taste or smell of food.
  10. Ask the dentist about special mouth wash and good mouth care.

Miss Rajkumari Binapani is a Lecturer–cum-Dietitian at the Central Referral Hospital, Sikkim Manipal University

At Central Referral Hospital, dietitians support people to improve their health by providing expert nutrition and dietary advice. A dietitian can help you manage health conditions, such as Diabetes, Hypertension, Heart disease, Renal disease, Dialysis, Cancer. The Diet Clinic at Central Referral Hospital also offers customised meal plan and food chart.
Visit: Diet Clinic, Level 3, Central Referral Hospital, Tadong, Gangtok.

Also read | Late night eating may cause greater weight gain – new research points to why

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