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Eating can become a vicious cycle for someone with advanced cancer. You know you need a balanced diet to stay well and strong enough to control symptoms, but those symptoms may have stolen your appetite and made eating unpleasant.

Depending on your treatment, the right kinds of food can improve your strength, fight infection and help you recover more quickly. You may also need to adapt your diet to cope with symptoms such as pain, constipation or diarrhoea.

If you are losing weight due to treatment, or because you are struggling to eat, you may need to increase your protein and calories. If you are overweight, or if treatment or a lack of mobility is causing you to put on weight, you may need a diet that is rich in nutrients but lower in energy.

The guidelines for a balanced diet when you have advanced cancer resemble those for healthy eating in general: eat fruit and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, small amounts of meat or fish and a smattering of good fats. All this should be done, as far as your illness will allow and in consultation with your health care team.

When appropriate, the Cancer Council Australia recommends the following for people with advanced cancer:

  • Eat plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruit – five or more servings of vegetables and two or more servings of fruit per day.
  • Have cereals (preferably wholegrain) – between three and twelve servings each day, depending on age and gender.
  • Eat meat in moderation – no more than three to four servings of lean red meat each week and avoid processed meats.
  • Select lower fat foods like lean meat and reduced-fat dairy products, and try using low-fat cooking methods like grilling instead of frying.
  • Choose low-salt products – flavour foods instead with herbs and spices.  



- 1 serving of vegetables: 1/2 cup cooked vegetables or legumes, 1 medium potato or 1 cup salad vegetables.

- 1 serving of fruit: 1 medium piece, 2 small pieces, 1 cup chopped or canned fruit.

- 1 serving of cereals: 1 slice of bread, 1/2 pita bread or 1/2 cup cooked pasta, rice or couscous.


The ideal, for an optimum quality of life, is to get the nutrients you need in food that you can both stomach and enjoy, and to be able to dine with your family and friends.

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Life, Hope & Reality was developed and written by Afaf Girgis, Claire Johnson, and Sylvie Lambert with funding from the NHMRC and Cancer Council NSW.

Last updated 30 August 2015