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Diet and Nutrition for Cancer Patients

Treating the nutritional health of cancer patients

Cancer treatment can place a lot of nutritional demand on your body. It is essential to consume a well-balanced diet to supply your body with sufficient calories and nutrients needed for energy, recovery and repair.

Though recent advances in chemotherapy drugs and radiotherapy techniques have marginally relieved the severity of side effects, the prevalence of treatment complications still remains. These complications can be difficult to manage and often interfere with eating. You may experience:

Side effects of cancer treatment can lead to fatigue, unwanted weight loss and malnutrition. Poor nutritional intake can impair the functioning of the heart, liver, kidney and immune systems, which will compromise overall treatment outcomes.

Unfortunately, malnutrition remains as one of the most prevalent complications after cancer treatment. Nutritional challenges are linked to increased mortality, compromised physical well-being as well as quality of life.

Malnutrition is common among cancer patients


Up to 80% of cancer patients experience malnutrition at some point during their cancer care


Over 20% of mortality are linked to malnutrition rather than the cancer diagnosis itself


Unwanted weight loss of 5% or more may increase mortality

As we all know, the road to cancer rehabilitation is long winding. Consider the case of professional athletes – each athlete has a distinctive nutrition and training program structured based on their individual strengths and needs.

The same goes for cancer rehabilitation. Every patient is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. A registered dietitian is a key member of the multi-disciplinary team who can closely monitor your diet and nutritional health prior to, during and after treatment. They will work with you and the team to put together the right nutrition program for you. This might include adjusting your diet to ease treatment-related side effects, as well as ensuring that you are getting the nutrients you need.

Good nutrition is especially important for people with cancer. Eating well during treatment can help you maintain your body weight, improve your strength and energy, decrease risk of infection and speed up the healing and recovery processes. Some cancer treatments work more effectively when you are well nourished too. People with cancer who are well nourished and able to maintain a healthy body weight often have a better prognosis.

Alleviating side-effects on patients’ diet to ensure the efficacy and outcome of treatment

Monitoring patients’ diet and body weight during the early, middle and later stage of treatment to avoid sudden weight loss

Helping patients to address foreseeable problems such as losing bone and muscle mass

Providing patients with specific dietary advice to help them replenish nutrition and maintain quality of life

Answering queries and clarifying misconceptions regarding diet and nutrition

Debunking Diet Myths

to Avoid Eating Pitfalls

Cancer diets are wide-ranging. Some claim that eating less can beat cancer; others say that sugar causes cancer. There is simply too much confusion around what cancer patients and survivors can or should be eating. This can leave a lot of you vulnerable to misleading information during a very difficult time in your life. Let’s hear what our in-house dietitian has to say around cancer, nutrition and diets.

The practice of “starving” cancer cells based on reduced nutritional intake is ill-advised. This is because reduced nutritional intake will put you at a much greater risk of unwanted weight loss and malnutrition. Unfortunately, these risks will have significant knock-on effects on your immune system and your potential for recovery. The effectiveness of your cancer treatment(s) will likely be compromised too.

No studies have shown that taking food rich in nutrients will result in increasing tumor size. On the contrary, patients should eat more nourishing food to provide them with sufficient nutrients to cope with the demands of every phase of treatment and to prevent sudden weight loss.

Yes, there are certain food types that should be avoided during cancer treatment and rehabilitation. First and foremost, food sanitation and hygiene must be maintained. We cannot further compromise patients’ immune system. In particular, raw or undercooked foods (e.g. salads, sashimi, sushi) should be avoided as they are susceptible to foodborne pathogens. Likewise, carcinogenic foods (e.g. canned meat, preserved foods and alcohol) should be avoided.

There is no concluding evidence to show that diets rich in nutritious foods will promote the growth of cancer cells. In fact, our general advice to people with cancer is that they should indeed be eating more nourishing foods, so as to load themselves up with sufficient energy for cell repair and growth. A well-balanced and nutritious diet will help with weight management too.

Cancer patients should consume a well-balanced and healthy diet during treatment. It is not necessary for you to avoid foods with strong flavours; in fact, an appropriate amount of seasonings can help increase your appetite. It is also useful to adapt cooking methods to improve your appetite to help maintain adequate nutritional intake.

Free Consultation with our Dietician

Want to be in the know about what to eat during cancer treatment??Cancer diets – what’s true, what’s false??Book an appointment with our in-house dietitian – it’s on us!

Our in-house registered dietitian, Mr. Edward Chun-Yeung Li, RD can meet you before or after your scheduled appointments. Mr. Li offers 15-minute in-person consultations to help you reach your nutritional goals. A typical appointment includes:

  1. An assessment of your current diet and nutritional health;
  2. Personalised diet recommendations;
  3. Learn information about food options to alleviate symptoms and boost strengths;
  4. Debunking your FAQs – especially cancer diet misconceptions

Please get in touch to arrange an appointment with our dietitian.

Edward Li


  2. Warren S. The immediate cause of death in cancer. Am J Med Sci 1932; 184:610-615 ;
  3. Tisdale MJ. Cachexia in Cancer patients. Nature Rev Cancer 2002; 2:862-871
  4. Ross PJ, et al. Do patients with weight loss have a worse outcome when undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancers? British journal of cancer. 2004;90:1905–1911. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6601781.

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