Andy Jackson
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Eating and chemotherapy

Andy Jackson
Posted by
07 May 2015

Starting chemotherapy impacts in so many ways not least patients eating habits, appetite and preferences. Eating well to patients keeping their strength up and boosting the body's chance of recovery but is often easier said than done when you factor in things like mouth ulcers, loss of appetite, nausea and a dry mouth.

Official medical dietary and nutritional advice is available in our patient information pages however here are 5 top tips from patients on how to deal with some of the barriers to eating presented by chemo: 

1. Overcoming the taste of chemo

This was a common complaint of many patients who lamented the 'metallic' taste that the chemo produced in their mouths. There were a number of suggestions on ways to tackle this including fizzy drinks like Fanta and soda water. However having some sweets on stand-by was the most popular with Haribo Tangfastics getting a rave review from Christine Sanders:

Jane Jones and Sharon Grimshaw were also fans of Haribo with Sharon suggesting that melon was also great for refreshing the palate:

2. Tackling taste bud changes

A number of patients also highlighted how chemo had a major impact upon their taste buds putting them off a lot of foods that they had previously liked. Many were drawn towards spicier, more flavoursome foods. For Jennifer Evans' partner, Martin, the solution was adding sauces and seasoning to every meal:

Josie Moss and Sarah Tierney were in complete agreement and suggested that stocking up on things with a strong taste was necessary to keep them going:

3. Ways to deal with a dry and/or sore mouth

Having a ready supply of water and soft drinks was regarded as an absolute essential for patients experiencing a dry or sore mouth with many cautioning against having anything too acidic if you're struggling with mouth ulcers. However, there were a number of additional tips for foods to try. For Jane Hurley yoghurts were useful:

Kim Sutcliffe suggested ice pops as another option for a sore mouth while Claire Chapman, who suffered quite badly from mouth ulcers during her treatment, had a number of suggestions on foods to try: 

4. Keeping your strength up when struggling for appetite

A loss of appetite and resultant weight loss were something that a number of patients expressed as serious challenges. However there were also lots of helpful suggestions on how to keep your strength up. For Donna Sharpe Crowther the solution was protein shakes:

Smoothies were also recommended by current Hodgkin lymphoma patient Nicola Boulter homemade smoothies were also a great way for her to keep her fruit and vegetable intake up and have helped to increase her energy levels:

5. What to eat and when

Opinion was very much divided on what to eat and when and seemed split between two camps: those advocating eating fresh produce and steering clear of sugar and anything refined or processed and those that supported the notion of eating what you like, when you like during treatment.

Angelina Marie summed up those in favour of eating as healthily as possible in her call for patients to eat organically:

Transplant suvivor Susan Beevers was perhaps the most vocal in support of eating what you can, when you can citing some of the barriers that make healthy eating unrealistic in some individuals circumstances:

A more balanced view was offered by Kathryn Harkin when she described the eating habits of her son before, during and after his treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia:

Do it your way

No two patients experiences are the same and as a result patients will tackle the issues surrounding food and nutrition in their own way. Also what works for one won't necessarily work for another. With that in mind, Joey M Campbell's suggestion to try things and find out what works for you would seem an appropriate point to end: 

A huge thank you to everyone that provided tips and advice for this blog. You can read all the comments in full on the original Have Your Say post on Facebook.

N.B. Whilst a useful aid, this blog does not represent the views of the wider medical community. For expert dietary and nutritional information and advice please read our patient information on diet and nutrition or contact your consultant.



I remember that awful metallic taste. Just eat what you fancy. After the chemo I found I wanted to eat for England and I did that is when you should try eating the things that are supposed to be good for you. I would not worry to much until then.


Fantastic advice Vivien, thanks so much for sharing!

This was certainly my experience, too, and I think it's very much a case of eating what you can when you can during treatment. I hope you're well now and had a wonderful weekend - what type of blood cancer did you have and how long have you been in remission?