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Cancer Nutrition Network for Texans

Symptom Management Tips for Cancer Patients


One of the most frequent questions that cancer patients have is about how to manage common symptoms that are side effects of many of the routine therapies. This page identifies those that are experienced by most patients - sometimes alone and sometimes in combination with other symptoms. All can be overcome!

Nausea Vomiting

  • Eat small, frequent meals in a pleasant environment
  • Stay away from cooking smells; buy foods packed in plastic pouches that can be boiled or micro-waved
  • Eat soft and salty foods kept cold or at room temperature (yogurt, pretzels, skinned chicken, and soft vegetables and fruits such as canned pears)
  • Avoid greasy, creamy, or spicy foods; avoid foods with strong odors
  • Leave about an hour between eating and drinking
  • Drink cold liquids, including ginger ale
  • Avoid the sight and smell of foods when not eating
  • Stay up 1 to 2 hours after eating, and keep head elevated
  • Relax between meals, and try to keep your mind off food
  • Take anti-nausea medications 30 to 60 minutes before eating; if nauseated, try saltines or toast
  • Eat or drink high-calorie, high-protein foods (milk shakes, or liquid supplements) when feeling well


  • Eat small, frequent, high-calorie, high-protein meals
  • Snack between meals and bedtime
  • Serve small portions on small plates
  • Add 1 T of powdered milk to foods made with milk (mashed potatoes or custard) to get extra protein
  • Drink calorie-dense oral supplements, in addition to or as meals
  • Prepare favorite foods ahead of time
  • Eat about 1/3 of the necessary daily calories at breakfast; appetite is usually best in the morning
  • Exercise gently, for 5 to 10 minutes, 30 minutes before eating
  • Make eating area attractive: play music, light candles
  • Eat desserts that contain lots of calories
  • Maintain a dietary-intake diary

Early Satiety

  • Eat small, frequent, high-calorie, high-protein meals
  • Snack between meals and at bedtime (high-calorie, high-protein snacks such as custard and rice pudding)
  • Serve small portions on small plates
  • Stay away from "empty" foods (lettuce, diet soda, and bouillon)
  • Drink calorie-dense liquids (milk shakes, juices, and fruit punch)
  • Avoid drinking while eating


  • Employ recommended bowel regimen daily
  • Use stool softener
  • Drink 2 to 3 quarts of fluids per day
  • Eat high-fiber foods; fresh fruits, vegetables and prunes
  • Call provider if there is no bowel movement in 2 days, especially if on opioids

Dry Mouth

  • Brush teeth or rinse mouth every 2 to 4 hours
  • Avoid citrus and dry foods
  • Increase saliva by drinking liquids with meals or sucking sour candy
  • Drink 2 to 3 quarts of fluids a day
  • Moisten and lubricate mouth and lips frequently

Stomatitis Esophagitis

  • Use topical analgesics (if prescribed) 15 minutes before eating
  • Rinse mouth (with a solution of sodium bicarbonate or salt) before eating
  • Avoid acidic foods and juices (orange, pineapple) as well as spices
  • Avoid foods that are very hot, very cold, hard, irritating; keep foods and fluids cool
  • Eat soft foods (milk shakes, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, custard, scrambled eggs, pureed meats)
  • Mix foods with butter, thin gravy, or sauce to ease swallowing
  • Puree foods and drink through a straw
  • Eat small, frequent, high-calorie, high-protein meals
  • Try popsicles, or freeze favorite drinks in ice cubes
  • Brush with a soft toothbrush
  • Rinse mouth after meals and at bedtime
  • Follow provider's directions for treating infection, if needed

Taste Changes

  • Eat foods that look and smell good
  • Use plastic utensils rather than metal ones
  • Consume protein-rich foods (cheese, eggs, and fish) if meat is unappealing
  • Marinate meat, chicken, and fish in a fruit juice, sweet and sour sauce, or sweet wine
  • Season foods with salt and pepper, basil, oregano, or rosemary
  • Try tart citrus foods such as lemon custard (as long as mouth and throat are not sore)
  • Eat foods at room temperature
  • Eat pineapple to neutralize taste


  • Report fever of over 100.5 degrees
  • Drink increased volume of fluids (juices, ginger, ice water), 1 glass per hour
  • Take fever-reducing medication as directed
  • Try to eat despite low appetite; eat foods made ahead of time, such as custard and rice pudding