Loss of Appetite

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Gloria Hagopian, RN, EdD
Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: May 7, 2009

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Good nutrition is very important during radiation therapy because protein and calories are needed to repair normal cells in the treatment field that have been damaged. Some people lose their appetite during radiation therapy. The causes of loss of appetite (anorexia) are many and varied, and can be due to the effect of therapy, stress, fatigue, site-specific effects of radiation, pain and changes in the usual life style. People who are better nourished generally have fewer and/or less severe reactions to radiation therapy and are better able to tolerate the treatments. Proteins are needed to repair and regenerate the normal cells in the treatment field that are damaged. Calories are needed to give you extra energy.
Here are some hints for you to try to maintain good nutrition while you are undergoing treatment:

  • Eat several small meals often, rather than three large meals.
  • Exercise lightly before meals to stimulate the appetite.
  • Don't drink fluids with meals. They tend to produce a feeling of fullness.
  • Eat when you are hungry.
  • Eat one-third of your Proteins and Calories at breakfast. This is generally when your appetite is at its peak.
  • Use nutritional supplements (such as Ensure, Instant Breakfast) if you are losing weight. Sip the supplement slowly between meals.
  • Eat what you really like to eat.

Good Sources of Protein

1 cup of whole milk ...................... 9 grams
1 cup Instant Breakfast ................. 6 grams
1 cup yogurt ...............................10 grams
1 egg ......................................... 6 grams
1 cup ice cream ........................... 6 grams
1/2 cup cottage cheese .................15 grams
1/2 can tuna fish .........................22 grams
3 oz. beef ..................................21 grams
1/2 breast chicken .......................25 grams

Good Sources of Calories

1 Tablespoon of mayonnaise ..........101 calories
1 teaspoon of butter ..................... 35 calories
1 Tablespoon of sour cream ........... 72 calories
1 Tablespoon of peanut butter ........ 94 calories
1 cup ice cream ..........................256 calories

Read more tips for dealing with loss of appetite.



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