August 30, 2023

Nutrition Tips for Cancer Patients Undergoing Radiation Therapy

Nutrition Tips for Cancer Patients Undergoing Radiation Therapy

Many patients have radiation therapy as part of their cancer treatment plan because of how effective it is at killing cancer cells. But, it can sometimes have a negative impact on the overall wellness of the body. This means it’s especially important to eat the right foods while going through radiation therapy. Doing so can help you stay strong during treatment and promote healing once treatment ends. Here are some important things to know about nutrition and the role it plays in your radiation therapy treatment.

The Connection Between Eating Well and Your Body During Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy can produce side effects specific to the area being treated, while others are more general. Regardless, the result is often the same: loss of appetite and fatigue.

Both of these can be improved when eating foods that give you the nutrition you need during cancer treatment. If it is not, however, patients become at risk for malnourishment. Malnutrition can cause you to be weak, tired, and unable to fight infection or finish cancer treatment. Eating a well-balanced diet is essential to keep this from happening. If you are receiving radiation therapy, this means an increase in calories, protein, and fluids in order to keep your strength up.

Best Foods To Eat During Radiation Therapy

Your day-to-day eating habits during radiation therapy may differ from before cancer treatment. You can be dealing with issues that make it harder to eat, and you might not have much of an appetite. But it’s important to do what you can to keep your body strong.

Watch this video to learn more about recommended food choices during radiation therapy.


Increase Strength With Extra Protein and Healthy Fats

Muscle mass and a healthy immune system are key when it comes to radiation therapy. Radiation therapy can make it hard to eat, making severe weight loss fairly common. An increase in proteins is highly recommended because it helps build muscle, improves blood clotting, boosts the immune system, and encourages cell growth and repair. Some of the best protein choices include lean meats like fish or poultry, eggs, dairy products, nuts or nut butter, and soy.

Healthy fats can also help keep the body strong and promote healing during radiation therapy. These fats, called unsaturated fats, play a number of beneficial roles, including fighting inflammation and helping the body repair and replace injured tissue. Some healthy fat options to choose from include avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and flax.

Boost Energy With Carbohydrates and Increased Calories

Carbohydrates (carbs) play a major role in providing the body with energy. The best carbs come from healthier options like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Processed carbs contain little or no nutritional value and should be avoided as often as possible.

The oncologist or dietician may also recommend increasing the amount of calories you eat each day. A higher-calorie diet helps give the body the energy it needs to support tissue health and regrowth.

Stay Hydrated By Drinking Fluids

It’s common for patients to become dehydrated when receiving radiation therapy treatment. Drink plenty of water, and consider adding juices, broths, sports drinks, and popsicles to your diet to stay hydrated. Proper hydration also boosts energy and organ function, promotes healing, and combats fatigue.

Maintain Good Amounts of Vitamins and Minerals

Diet alone might provide the right amount of vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay strong during treatment. But if not, your doctor might recommend increasing levels by adding supplements to your daily regimen. Always consult with your doctor before taking any new vitamins or supplements during radiation therapy.

How to Maintain Proper Nutrition During Radiation Therapy

Eating a well-balanced diet might be harder during cancer treatment, but it’s important that you try! Here are some tips that can help keep your body nourished a little easier:

  • Replace larger meals with smaller meals and snacks every few hours

  • Consume a wide variety of fruits and vegetables as often as possible

  • Add protein powder to your morning smoothies

  • Keep snacks in the car or a bag so you have something handy

  • Choose protein-dense snacks, such as cheese sticks, yogurt cups, or hard-boiled eggs throughout the day

  • Incorporate healthy fats and proteins into dishes often

  • Make mealtimes more enjoyable by eating with family or friends

  • Avoid lying down immediately after eating

Talking to a member of your cancer care team can help if you are struggling to eat enough calories throughout the day. You might be referred to a dietitian or nutrition counseling expert who can help create a food plan based on your needs. If nausea is making it difficult to eat, your oncologist might prescribe anti-nausea medications to help.

Foods to Avoid When Going Through Radiation Therapy

Stomach issues like nausea and diarrhea are common side effects of radiation therapy, and eating certain foods can make it worse. Because of this, your doctor might encourage you to avoid eating or drinking things that could likely interfere with digestion. During radiation, it is best to avoid consuming:

  • Spicy, fried, or very sweet foods

  • Excess salt

  • Refined sugars

  • Hydrogenated oils

  • Excessive alcohol

Your doctor can help answer any questions about foods you are unsure about.

Dietary Guidance for Site-Specific Radiation Treatment

When radiation therapy is administered to certain areas of the body, it can create its own specific set of challenges. Consider these additional suggestions if you are receiving radiation therapy to the head and neck area or to the pelvic region.

Tips for Radiation Treatment to the Head and Neck Area

Certain side effects caused by radiation therapy for head and neck cancers could impact your ability to eat. Some patients experience side effects such as dry mouth, sores, nausea, loss of taste or a metallic taste, or difficulty chewing and swallowing after receiving radiation treatment. Consider the following suggestions to reduce these uncomfortable side effects:

  • Avoid foods that are spicy or acidic, as they can inflame mouth sores

  • Eat soft, bland foods that are less likely to irritate the mouth

  • Use gravies or sauces to make foods moist

  • Increase saliva by sucking on lozenges or popsicles

  • Rinse your mouth regularly throughout the day, especially after meals, with a water and baking soda solution or an alcohol-free mouthwash

  • Use plastic ware instead of metal knives, forks, or cans

  • Gargle with warm salt water to help clear out mucus

  • Sip on warm teas to soothe the mouth and the stomach

  • Drink sports or therapeutic nutrition drinks to increase calories

If your oncologist is concerned that you may choke because of your inability to eat, drink, or swallow, a temporary feeding tube may be recommended.

Tips for Radiation to the Pelvic Region

Bowel changes or bladder inflammation can occur when radiation is delivered to the pelvic region. This could cause patients to experience side effects such as bloating, difficulty urinating, diarrhea or constipation, and rectal irritation or itchiness (proctitis). Your cancer care team can give specific suggestions to help minimize complications after colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, or gynecologic cancer treatment if needed. You can also put these general tips into practice:

Minimize bloating and gas:

  • Eat slowly and chew food well

  • Avoid chewing gum and carbonated drinks

  • Limit gas-producing foods, such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, beans, and some artificial sweeteners, like sorbitol, aspartame, and stevia

Manage bladder issues:

  • Drink plenty of fluids

  • Avoid drinking caffeine and alcohol and consuming spicy foods

  • Stop tobacco use

Control frequent, watery bowel movements:

  • Replenish fluids throughout the day

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol

  • Eat more soluble fiber, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, oats, apples without skins, and bananas

  • Ask your doctor for help if diarrhea does not improve

Relief from constipation:

  • Drink plenty of fluids, aiming for eight to 10 cups of liquids a day

  • Establish regularity by eating and trying to have a bowel movement on a schedule

  • Select high-fiber foods, such as bran cereals, popcorn, and fruits and vegetables with skins on

  • Incorporate light exercise to help improve regularity

  • Contact your doctor if you are unable to have a bowel movement for three or more days; use laxatives only as recommended by a doctor

Minimize inflammation of the rectum (proctitis):

  • Cut out caffeine

  • Avoid spicy, acidic, and fatty foods during bouts of diarrhea

  • Try switching to alternative forms of milk if lactose intolerance may be a factor

Support for Radiation Therapy Patients at Cancer Care Centers of Brevard

The cancer specialists at Cancer Care Centers of Brevard want to see you provide your body with the best nutrition so you can get the most out of your radiation therapy treatment. If you or a loved one has a treatment plan that includes radiation therapy, our team of specialists in Melbourne, Merritt Island, Palm Bay, and Rockledge, Florida, are available to talk with you about what to expect. We are happy to connect you with the support services you need to maintain a balanced diet throughout your radiation treatment.

CCCB offers the latest cancer treatments close to home right here in Brevard County. We can also provide second opinions on your cancer diagnosis to ensure that you receive the best cancer treatment based on your situation.


Categories: Cancer Treatments