Nutrition for people living with cancer

Cancer itself and cancer treatment place extra demands on your body. You will need to adapt what you eat to cope with your body’s changing nutritional needs. Nutrition and exercise will also help you cope better.

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How good nutrition can help

Research suggests that eating well benefits people during and after cancer treatment. It can help to maintain muscle strength, maintain a healthy weight and have more energy, all of which can improve your quality of life. Good nutrition can also help to:

  • manage the side effects of treatment and speed up recovery
  • heal wounds and rebuild damaged tissues – this is important after surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or other treatment
  • improve your body’s immune system and ability to fight infections
  • reduce the risk of cancer coming back.

How exercise can help

According to research, exercise helps most people during and after cancer treatment. Being active may:

  • strengthen your muscles and bones
  • reduce your risk of developing new cancers and other health problems
  • improve your circulation and energy levels
  • reduce stress and improve your mood
  • manage fatigue, a common side effect of many treatments.

Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program, or see a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist to develop an exercise plan that suits your situation.

Look after your teeth

Before treatment starts, see your dentist to check the health of your teeth and to identify any problems early.

This check-up is especially important if you are having radiation therapy to the head or neck, as radiation can affect your teeth and gums.

Chemotherapy and bisphosphonates can also cause mouth and dental problems, especially if you already have poor dental health.

Your doctor or dentist can advise the best way to care for your teeth and mouth before, during and after treatment.

Key nutritional needs of each treatment phase

During cancer treatment and recovery, you need to adapt what you eat to cope with your body’s changing nutritional needs.

During treatment

  • You may need more energy (kilojoules/calories). Eat small, frequent meals or snacks, rather than three large meals a day.
  • If you start to lose weight, try these suggestions for gaining weight. Ask for a referral to a dietitian if weight loss is an ongoing and significant issue.
  • Do some light physical activity, such as walking, to improve appetite and mood, reduce fatigue, help digestion and prevent constipation.
  • Check with your doctor or dietitian before taking vitamin or mineral supplements or making other changes to your diet.

After treatment

  • Try to maintain your weight to speed up recovery.
  • Eat a variety of foods and do some physical activity to rebuild muscles and recover from treatment side effects.
  • Continue to follow the relevant suggestions for managing treatment side effects that impact on what you can eat and drink. You can also talk to a dietitian for further assistance.


  • Focus on healthy eating once you’ve recovered from the side effects of treatment.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and be physically active to help lower the chance of cancer coming back.
  • See your doctor for regular check-ups.

Living with advanced cancer

  • Good nutrition can help improve quality of life.
  • Adjust your food choices and eating patterns to meet your changing nutritional needs.
  • Talk to your doctor about medicines suitable for boosting your appetite.
  • Relax dietary restrictions, e.g. choose full-cream rather than low-fat milk.
  • Consider using nutritional supplements if you can’t eat enough. Discuss options with your doctor, palliative care specialist or dietitian.

Questions for your doctor

You may find these questions helpful when thinking about what to ask your doctor about nutrition issues associated with your cancer treatment. If your doctor gives you answers that you don’t understand, ask for clarification.

  • Will this cancer treatment affect what I can eat?
  • Should I be on a special diet?
  • Should I avoid any particular food during treatment?
  • What other changes to my diet can I expect?
  • Why am I losing/gaining weight?
  • Why am I feeling sick?
  • Why am I so tired?
  • How long will the mouth ulcers take to heal?
  • How can I reduce nausea?
  • Will medicine help to manage the nausea?
  • Will these symptoms go away and, if so, when?
  • Should I take vitamin supplements?
  • Do I need to change my diet after treatment ends?
  • Can you refer me to a dietitian?

Click on the icon below to download a PDF fact sheet on Nutrition and Cancer.

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

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To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
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Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

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Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
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Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in May 2016
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