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Diet and nutrition during treatment

During blood cancer treatment, diet and nutrition can impact on how you feel and your overall wellbeing.

Nutritional goals during treatment are to prevent or reverse malnutrition, avoiding weight loss (preserving lean body mass/muscle) and minimise side effects such as decreased appetite, nausea, diarrhoea, dry mouth, and taste changes.

Being underweight or malnourished can have a negative effect on your overall quality of life. Poor appetite and weight loss are associated with symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and pain.

It is likely you will be encouraged to eat a high-energy diet to meet the changing metabolic demands of your body during this time.

During chemo treatment you may experience complications that negatively affect your nutrition and hence your overall wellbeing, such as mucositis (these are ulcers in the mouth/throat/stomach).

You may be given drugs, called corticosteroids or steroids for short, as part of your treatment. Steroids can cause weight gain through increased appetite stimulation and fluid retention (oedema) in your limbs, abdomen and face.

Some general nutrition recommendations for people receiving blood cancer treatment are:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. For many people, this means avoiding weight loss by getting enough calories every day. For people who are obese, this may mean losing weight. It’s important to get advice from your health care team before you try to lose weight during treatment.
  • Get essential nutrients. These include protein, carbohydrates, fats, and water. You can make an appointment to see a hospital dietitian as an outpatient or ask to see one if you are an inpatient. Your treating team may refer you to a dietitian. Community dietitians are also available, and your GP can arrange this through a care plan if you don’t have private health insurance or insurance that covers dietitians.

You may like to get ideas for new recipes and meals in our free Cooking for Chemo booklets. There’s also useful information about food safety and a neutropenic diet here.