Chemocare.com

Care During Chemotherapy and Beyond

Cancer and Chemo-Based Lack of Appetite and Early Satiety



Poor appetite describes the feeling of not being hungry, no desire to eat and/or no taste for any food.  Also referred to as "not hungry," "loss of appetite" or anorexia.

Early satiety refers to the feeling of being full after eating only a small amount of food.

Things you can do to minimize cancer and chemo-induced lack of appetite: 

Food preparation:

  • Try to eat small meals or snacks, every two to three hours, instead of three large meals a day (become a grazer).  Don't expect to eat regular size meals.
  • Foods that are high in protein or calories are good snacks to have handy.  Examples include; milk shakes, cheese, fruits, peanut butter, nuts, crackers and juices. 
  • Eat foods that are rich in calories and nutrients.  Avoid low-calorie foods that fill you up, such as lettuce, broth and diet soda.
  • When choosing beverages, select nutrient-dense fluids such as milk, milk shakes, juice and punch-type drinks.
  • Avoid heavy meals, greasy or fried foods, and foods that cause gas.  Examples of gas-producing foods include: beans, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and carbonated drinks.
  • Prepare food that is colorful and appealing to the eye.

Surroundings and their effect on lack of appetite:

  • Try to eat with friends or family.  Make eating a social event.  Often times, people will eat more when they are socializing.
  • Try changing the time, place, and surroundings of meals.  Watch your favorite TV program while you eat.
  • Use a plate that is larger than needed and put small portions on the plate.  That way the amount of food that you need to eat does not look so overwhelming.
  • Avoid smells that are obnoxious or bothersome to you while you are eating.

Taste changes from cancer or chemo treatments:

  • If you have a lack of appetite because you have lost your sense of taste from chemo treatment, you may want to try adding different seasonings to your foods.
  • If you have a bad taste in your mouth, try sucking on hard candies/mints or chewing gum.  Also, keep your mouth clean by brushing at least two times per day and rinsing your mouth out with water between meals/snacks.

Dry mouth:

  • If you aren't eating much because your mouth is dry, try increasing your non-alcoholic fluid intake to at least two liters per day; just make sure it is okay with your doctor to drink this much fluid.  Also limit the amount of food you drink with meals.  Liquids make you feel full.  Save the liquids for between meals.
  • Avoid toothpaste and mouthwashes that contain alcohol as this can cause further drying of your mouth.  To stimulate saliva, or to make your mouth moist, try sucking on ice cubes, candies, or gum.

Mouth sores:

  • If you are not eating because you have sores in your mouth, use a soft bristle toothbrush.  You can also rinse your mouth with a mixture of 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of baking soda or 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water about four or five times a day.  Check with your doctor if it is okay to use acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen for the discomfort.

Exercise:

  • After getting approval from your doctor, try to do some daily, mild exercise.  Some times some daily activity, like twenty minutes of walking or yoga, will help stimulate your appetite, relieve stress, improve your mood, and help you sleep better at night.

Drugs that may be prescribed by your doctor to combat lack of appetite include:

Note:These drugs are not usually prescribed for temporary or short-term appetite problems.

  • Megestrol acetate (Megace®) comes in a pill and liquid form.
  • Metoclopramide (Reglan®) comes in tablets (pill) and in liquid form.
  • Dronabinol (Marinol®) comes in a capsule (pill) form.
  • Steroids like prednisone or dexamethasone (Decadron®) can increase your appetite and sense of well being.  These also come in tablets and liquid form.
  • Alcohol, one glass of wine or beer, can help stimulate your appetite and add some calories to your meal.

If you feel you have early satiety or lack of appetite from cancer or chemo treatments, the following guidelines suggest when to call your doctor or health care provider:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • Losing weight
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea (interferes with ability to eat and unrelieved with prescribed medications).
  • Vomiting (more than 4-5 times in a 24-hour period).
  • Mouth sores
  • If you continue to have lack of appetite despite trying some of the above recommendations.
  • Any other bothersome symptoms and concerns.


Note:  We strongly encourage you to talk with your health care professional about your specific medical condition and treatments. The information contained in this website is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute for medical advice.