Living with cancer: how to eat well

Helping you to cope with common side-effects of cancer and cancer treatment

If you’re living with cancer or having cancer treatment, you might not be able to eat and drink what you are used to, or as much. This can be difficult, especially if you’ve always enjoyed your food and now find mealtimes challenging.

On top of the symptoms caused by cancer itself, treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery can cause side-effects that make it more difficult to eat normally and absorb what you need from food.

Who is this advice for?

This section of our website is for people living with cancer and those having cancer treatment who not only want to learn about coping with these side-effects but also want advice on a diet and lifestyle that is as healthy as possible.

This is a general guide and is not suitable for people who are eating very little, have lost a lot of weight unintentionally or are receiving palliative care, as they will need specialist information and advice.

If you have completed your treatment or feel able to eat normally, our booklet, Healthy Living After Cancer, has lots of useful information about healthy eating and being active that may be more suitable for you.

If you follow a special diet for another medical condition, such as heart disease, diabetes or renal failure, or have had a colostomy or ileostomy, this website may not be suitable for you. Talk to your doctor or dietitian about safe changes to make to your diet.

What to eat if you have cancer

Eating well generally means eating a diet rich in wholegrains, vegetables, fruit and pulses, with lean meat, fish and lower fat dairy. It also means limiting foods and drinks that are high in added sugar, salt or saturated fat such as butter, cream and cheese. This includes highly processed foods and drinks such as biscuits, crisps, fast foods, ice cream and sugar-sweetened soft drinks (like cola).

In line with our Cancer Prevention Recommendations, we also advise limiting the amount of red meat you eat, and avoiding processed meats (like ham and bacon) and alcoholic drinks.

Alongside advice from your doctor, our tips and recipes can help you get the balance right between coping with the side-effects of cancer, feeling better in yourself, eating well and enjoying your food.

We hope you find our information for people living with cancer useful. Email us at publications@wcrf.org with any comments or suggestions.

"When going through cancer, eating can be a challenge and knowing what to eat can be very difficult and sometimes confusing. That's why Eat Well During Cancer is an important piece of work which will be a real help to many people living with cancer."

- BDA specialist dietitian Deborah Howland