MultiCare Health System

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Cancer

Possible Side Effects

A person with a poor or no appetite eats much less than he or she normally does, or does not eat at all. It can have a number of causes, such as difficulty swallowing, nausea, vomiting, changed sense of taste or smell, feeling full, tumor growth, depression, pain or side effects of chemotherapy or radiation. Poor appetite is most often a temporary problem.

What to Look For: Weight loss and lack of interest in food. Refusal to eat favorite foods.

What the Patient Can Do:
  • Talk with your doctor about the cause of your poor appetite
  • Eat as much as you want to, but don’t force yourself to eat
  • Think of food as a necessary part of treatment
  • Start the day with breakfast
  • Eat small, frequent meals of favorite foods
  • Try foods high in calories that are easy to eat (pudding, gelatin, ice cream, sherbets, yogurt, milk shakes)
  • Add sauces and gravies to meats, and cut them into small pieces to make them easy to swallow  
  • Use butter, oils, syrups, and milk in foods to raise calories. Avoid low-fat foods unless fats cause indigestion or other problems.
  • Eat food cold or at room temperature to decrease its smell and taste
  • Plan meals with favorite foods
  • Create pleasant settings for meals. Soft music, conversation, and other distractions may help you eat more comfortably.
  • Eat with other family members
  • Drink beverages between meals instead of with meals. (Liquids at mealtime can lead to early fullness).
  • Try light exercise one hour before meals
  • Hard candies, mint tea, or ginger ale may help get rid of strange tastes in the mouth
  • With your doctor’s approval, enjoy a glass of beer or wine before eating

What Caregivers Can Do:
  • Try giving the patient six to eight small meals and snacks each day
  • Offer starchy foods (bread, pasta, potatoes) with high-protein foods, such as fish, chicken, meats, turkey, eggs, cheeses, milk, tofu, nuts, peanut butter, yogurt, peas and beans
  • Keep cool drinks and juices within the patient’s reach
  • If the smell of food bothers the patient, offer bland foods cold or at room temperature
  • Create pleasant settings for meals, and eat with the patient
  • Try plastic forks and knives instead of metal if the patient is bothered by bitter or metallic tastes
  • Don’t blame yourself when the patient refuses food or can’t eat
  • If the patient cannot eat, you may want to offer your company, reading, or massage

Call the Doctor if the Patient:
  • feels nauseated and cannot eat for a day or more
  • loses five pounds or more
  • feels pain when he or she eats
  • does not urinate for an entire day or
  • does not move bowels for two days or more
  • does not urinate often, and when he or she does, the urine comes out in small amounts, smells strong, or is very yellow
  • has vomiting for more than 24 hours
  • is unable to drink or keep down liquids