Loss of appetite after cancer treatment

After your cancer treatment has ended you may find that you do not feel like eating. You may not enjoy your food or find it hard to eat very much.

This can happen for a number of reasons such as

Not eating can make you feel tired and weak and make it harder for you to recover and get back to normal.Eating well and being a healthy weight are important parts of your recovery – this is hard to do if your appetite is poor. Your appetite should get back to normal a few weeks after you finish treatment.

What medical help is available for loss of appetite?

If your appetite is poor you may lose weight, be lacking in nutrients or feel unwell. Because you can lose your appetite for different reasons it is a good idea to talk to your nurse specialist, GP or hospital doctor about it. He or she can find the cause and give you advice to help. For example, treating a sore or dry mouth or improving symptoms of fatigue or depression can help your appetite to come back.

Medications that increase appetite are also available or your doctor may advise you to  take nutritional supplement drinks.

How can I cope better with a loss of appetite?

  • Make the most of your appetite when it’s good. Eat when and what you want.
  • Take small meals and snacks about every 2–3 hours whenever you are hungry
  • Take snacks high in calories and protein.
  • Keep some of your favourite foods handy to snack on.
  • Use a smaller plate for your meals. Large portions can be off-putting if your appetite is small.
  • Eat slowly and chew your food well.
  • Try complete meal supplements when it’s hard for you to eat food. These are products that contain the nutrients to replace a meal. Your doctor, GP or dietician can prescribe them. 
  • Special high-calorie drinks can help to keep your strength up. Talk to your dietician about suitable ones for you. Your doctor can also give you a prescription for these drinks.
  • Encourage your family to eat together and make mealtimes relaxing and enjoyable.
  • Take regular exercise, if you can, as it may help your appetite. Fresh air can help too.

Our booklet Diet and Cancer has lots of tips on eating healthily and ways to cope with a poor appetite or other eating problems after cancer treatment.

Call our Cancer Nurseline

Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 6pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm
Date Last Reviewed: 
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Date Last Revised: 
Tuesday, November 24, 2015