Young, blonde, laughing woman with a pink T-shirt and a cancer ribbon of the same color in the foreground. In the background, out of focus, two women and a man, laughing, in nature. Lettering: "nutrition and cancer", "medimentum".

I have cancer — what should I eat?

The diet that affec­ted women eat befo­re, during, and after can­cer tre­at­ment can play an important role in reco­very. Diet is con­side­red a sup­port­i­ve tre­at­ment opti­on. But can­cer and its asso­cia­ted tre­at­ment can some­ti­mes chan­ge how and what pati­ents eat. A diet that is healt­hy for some may not work for others.

The World Can­cer Rese­arch Fund esti­ma­tes that about 20 per­cent of all can­cers dia­gno­sed in deve­lo­ped count­ries are rela­ted to obe­si­ty, phy­si­cal inac­ti­vi­ty, exces­si­ve alco­hol con­sump­ti­on and/or poor diet. While the­re is still much ambi­gui­ty about can­cer and its con­nec­tion to diet, par­ti­cu­lar­ly in rela­ti­on to pre­ven­ta­ti­ve nut­ri­ti­on and the heal­ing powers of food. Nevert­hel­ess, it is important to deal with the topic, sin­ce diet has an important influence on pro­mi­nent risk fac­tors such as obe­si­ty and dia­be­tes. This works best with myths and facts about the role of nut­ri­ti­on in can­cer pre­ven­ti­on and during can­cer treatment.

Here are some of the most common claims about diet in cancer: 

The­re is a link bet­ween can­cer and being over­weight or obe­se.

Yes, excess body fat can increase can­cer risk by caus­ing the body to pro­du­ce more estro­gen and insu­lin, and release hor­mo­nes that can sti­mu­la­te can­cer growth. A new report from the World Can­cer Rese­arch Fund sug­gests obe­si­ty increa­ses the risk of at least 12 dif­fe­rent types of cancer.

The­re are cer­tain foods that have been lin­ked to can­cer risk.

Yes, high con­sump­ti­on of red or pro­ces­sed meat increa­ses the risk of can­cer in humans. Alter­na­tively, eating fruit, vege­ta­bles, and who­le grains helps redu­ce can­cer risk. Pro­ces­sed and nut­ri­ent-poor foods (e.g. chips) should be con­su­med to a limi­t­ed extent.

A list of other healt­hy habits to redu­ce the risk of cancer:

  • Redu­ced con­sump­ti­on of suga­ry drinks
  • Limi­t­ed con­sump­ti­on of red meat
  • Increase in plant pro­te­ins such as beans, len­tils, tofu ins­tead of meat
  • Main­tain a healt­hy weight
  • Main­tai­ning a Healt­hy Weight At least 150 minu­tes of exer­cise per week
  • No use of tob­ac­co in any form
  • Limit alco­hol con­sump­ti­on to 1 drink per day
  • Avo­i­ding exces­si­ve sun exposure

The­re are cer­tain foods that “fight” can­cer naturally

Agree to a cer­tain ext­ent. Eating an over­all balan­ced diet can help redu­ce can­cer risk or keep the body healt­hy during can­cer tre­at­ment. In addi­ti­on, anti­oxi­dants and phy­to­che­mi­cals found in fruit, vege­ta­bles and who­le grains have anti-can­cer effects in the body.

The­re are cer­tain diets that cure cancer.

That is not right. The­re isn’t enough rese­arch to show that a spe­ci­fic diet can cure can­cer. Howe­ver, nut­ri­ti­on plays a sup­port­i­ve role and can help pati­ents to bet­ter cope with indi­vi­du­al com­pon­ents of the the­ra­py (sur­gery, che­mo­the­ra­py, radia­ti­on). Pati­ents under­go­ing can­cer tre­at­ment, espe­ci­al­ly che­mo­the­ra­py, may expe­ri­ence nau­sea, vomi­ting, diar­rhea, con­s­ti­pa­ti­on, fla­tu­lence, dys­pha­gia (dif­fi­cul­ty swal­lo­wing), sto­ma­ti­tis (mouth infec­tion), xerosto­mia (dry mouth), muco­si­tis (pain and inflamm­a­ti­on of the mucous mem­bra­nes). In addi­ti­on, the­re is fati­gue (tired­ness), loss of appe­ti­te and chan­ges in taste.

Due to the­se side effects, the­re is an increased inci­dence of mal­nu­tri­ti­on. Die­ti­ti­ans the­r­e­fo­re play an important role in can­cer tre­at­ment in and around cli­nics by offe­ring indi­vi­dua­li­zed stra­te­gies and nut­ri­ti­on plans. Pati­ents are hel­ped to achie­ve or main­tain a healt­hy weight and diet based on their symptoms.

We have therefore summarized the most important nutritional tips for cancer:

Tips for bet­ter nut­ri­ti­on during can­cer treatment

Tips for bet­ter nut­ri­ti­on during can­cer tre­at­ment You should eat what you want and fol­low few gui­de­lines. Nut­ri­tio­nists are tas­ked with pro­vi­ding a basis for pati­ents to feel as strong and healt­hy as pos­si­ble during treatment.

The basis of eating with can­cer treatment

One of the most important goals of can­cer nut­ri­ti­on is to get enough of the fol­lo­wing elements:

  • Fluids to stay hydra­ted (most­ly decaf­feina­ted fluids)
  • Ener­gy (calo­ries) and nut­ri­ents from healt­hy foods
  • Pro­te­ins to help main­tain body mass/muscles

Over­all, the main goal is to pro­vi­de calo­ries through nut­ri­ent-den­se foods. Most pati­ents can eat nor­mal­ly and healt­hi­ly. If you are not expe­ri­en­cing any diet-rela­ted side effects from your can­cer tre­at­ment that limit your abili­ty to eat and/or digest food, you can stick to a gene­ral­ly healt­hy diet that includes the fol­lo­wing foods as core elements:

  • fruits and vegetables
  • Full grain
  • Beans and lentils
  • Nut­ri­tious Fats
  • Lean pro­te­in

If you suf­fer from tre­at­ment side effects, such as fati­gue and diges­ti­ve pro­blems, it’s hel­pful to include foods that requi­re litt­le or no pre­pa­ra­ti­on and are easy to eat — and easy on your sto­mach. This does­n’t mean “junk food” full of emp­ty calo­ries, but more con­ve­ni­ent alter­na­ti­ves that still pro­vi­de the nut­ri­ents you need. 

The following are prominent suggestions that help most patients with diet planning:

Fresh fruit. The best choices are fruits that are refres­hing, easy to eat, and high in water. Melons, ber­ries, pineapp­les, bana­nas, pears and can­ned or jar­red fruit in their own juices are popular.

Yogurt. It’s easy to eat and pro­mo­tes healt­hy diges­ti­on. Choo­se uns­weeten­ed varie­ties. You can add ber­ries, cin­na­mon, or slivers of almonds for flavor. 

Mues­li. Ever­y­thing from oat­me­al to oat bran, oats are a gre­at hot choice. Rice-based cere­als are espe­ci­al­ly good if you have diges­ti­ve issues. 

Pea­nut but­ter. Choo­se who­le grain cra­ckers for fiber (if appli­ca­ble) and pro­te­in. Look for 100 per­cent pea­nut but­ter that’s made with no added oils. 

Full grain. Eat who­le-grain bread and crackers—make sure the pack­a­ging says 100 per­cent who­le grain. Who­le grain pro­mo­tes regu­la­ri­ty and diges­ti­ve health; Too high a grind can remo­ve fiber, pro­te­in, and other nutrients. 

Meat and poul­try. Look for who­le, unpro­ces­sed meats wit­hout nitra­tes. Chi­cken breast is a con­ve­ni­ent choice, as is chi­cken or tuna salad and meat/poultry that is ten­de­ri­zed in soups and stews. The slow coo­ker is a gre­at way to con­ve­ni­ent­ly cook meat or poultry.

Eggs (boi­led). Eat only boi­led eggs (scram­bled eggs, hard-boi­led eggs, ome­lettes). Raw eggs are unsafe, even if they fall into a smoothie.

Food safety tips

Be sure to sel­ect and pro­cess foods within the bounds of your coo­king skills. After all, safe food pre­pa­ra­ti­on and pre­pa­ra­ti­on is an extre­me­ly important pie­ce of the puz­zle. It should also be noted that no indi­vi­du­al all­er­gies and into­le­ran­ces could be taken into account in the sug­ges­ti­ons. The­se are gene­ral diet tips.


Health City Ber­lin

Memo­ri­al­ca­re Orga­niza­ti­on

Memo­ri­al Slo­an Ket­te­ring Can­cer Cen­ter

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