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Nutrition During Cancer Care 


Maintaining good nutrition during cancer care is critical both to make sure your patient has its best fighting chance to effectively fight cancer, but also to prevent harm to critical body structures, including the teeth and mouth. In addition, therapies such as radiation, chemo, and surgery when used for some cancers cause changes in eating and digesting abilities, often prompting individuals to select foods that may be less healthy from oral health or systemic health standpoint.

Nutrient needs

What does your body need more of during cancer care? Proteins, vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants. Fats are needed as well, provided those selected are unsaturated. It is important to maintain weight to maintain muscle mass.

What to avoid

What foods should be taken in much smaller quantities? The body does not benefit from processed foods including white flour and sugars. They should be taken in limited quantities. The body also does not want fats of the saturated type. Refined sugars come in a variety of forms, including candies, cakes, dried fruit, and sugar-sweetened beverages. The body’s best beverage choice is water, preferably fluoridated tap water, which strengthens enamel to reduce the risk of tooth decay.

Changes caused by treatment

Oral mucositis can result from chemotherapy or radiation. This may make it more difficult to eat crunchy foods such as nuts or sharp foods such as carrots and celery and may prompt a selection of soft, sticky foods such as cereal and yogurt. Nutrition supplement drinks can be helpful to get needed calories but be aware of the sugar content and the increased risk of tooth decay from these which is especially of concern to those receiving radiation therapy for head and neck cancer.

Cells that line the digestive tract turn over rapidly. Chemotherapies that target reproducing cells disturb the normal function of the stomach and intestines resulting in nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Eat frequent but small snacks and stay hydrated.

For more information about nutrition and oral health, see these resources:


You may also wish to learn about:

More information regarding the following topics will be coming soon:

  • Importance of Good Oral Health Before, During, and After Cancer Care


The information on the Rhode Island Cancer and Oral Health Resource Guide, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images, and other external materials are for informational purposes only. The Partnership to Reduce Cancer in Rhode Island does not provide medical advice. The information on this website is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. 

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