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8. Managing the diet of the person with cancer

This can be a daunting task that often falls upon carers, family members and friends. What a person with cancer should eat depends on whether or not they are undergoing treatment (see links below). However, the following general guidelines may be of assistance. If you are not sure, contact the Cancer Council Helpline 13 11 20, your doctor or a dietician for advice.

  • Encourage them to drink plenty of fluids. It is best to avoid fizzy drinks as this may reduce appetite. Caffeine can interfere with sleep. Using straws or freezing drinks in ice cube trays can help increase fluid intake.
  • If nauseous, avoid greasy, fatty, sweet foods or anything with a strong odour. Favourite meals should also be avoided at this time because a permanent distaste for them may develop.
  • In the case of a sore mouth or throat, avoid citrus fruit/juice, spicy, salty, rough, course or dry foods. Cook foods until tender – soft foods may be easier to eat. Mixing them with butter/gravy/sauces will make them easier to swallow. Serve food cold or at room temperature. They could also ask their doctor about numbing agents to take before meals.
  • Food hygiene is very important. Where possible, avoid pre-made food from salad bars or unpasteurized milks and juices, wash all food and utensils thoroughly, cook meat well and store food at low temperatures.
  • Encourage the person with cancer to ask their doctor or dietician whether nutritional supplements are necessary.

Additional resources on eating/food: