This content was originally posted on our My Ovacome forum on 18 February 2021

In this blog post, we’re looking at some of the different approaches to the management of cancer symptoms and side effects of treatment. We’ll look more closely at food and drink in the context of symptom management. Diet and cancer is a complex subject with a wealth of information available and we have covered some other aspects of diet in our 'Diet and cancer' blog post series (Ovacome blog - Diet and cancer: intermittent fastingOvacome blog - Diet and cancer: vegetarianism, veganism and soyOvacome Blog - Diet and cancer: sugar and carbohydrates and Ovacome Blog - Diet and cancer: an introduction). For this post, the focus will be on how what you eat and drink can help you to manage some of the symptoms and side effects you experience. 

As we mentioned in the first post in our series on diet and ovarian cancer, there is no conclusive evidence that any particular food or diet can prevent, reduce the risk of or treat ovarian cancer. However, some people find that certain foods and drinks can help to alleviate some symptoms and side effects, alongside or instead of medication. Your Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) will be able advise you about symptom management and your hospital team will be able to refer you to a dietitian or other specialist if appropriate. If you’re experiencing symptoms that are persisting or you’re finding difficult to cope with, it’s important to tell your team.

The temperature of the food we eat can change its effects on symptoms. For example, cold foods such as drinks mixed with crushed ice and ice cream can help to soothe mouth soreness or ulcers caused by chemotherapy (Mouth problems and cancer treatments - Macmillan Cancer Support) or alleviate hot flushes during menopause (Hot flushes and sweats in women | Coping with cancer | Cancer Research UK). We also wrote about these symptoms and mouth care in our series of posts on the side effects of chemotherapy (In focus: managing the effects of chemotherapy ... - My Ovacome). If you’re experiencing nausea, cold or warm foods can be easier to manage than hot dishes (Nausea and vomiting - Macmillan Cancer Support).

There are also some foods that can help to ease digestive symptoms, in particular nausea. Foods that people sometimes eat to help with nausea include ginger, peppermint, pineapple and fizzy drinks, sipped slowly through a straw Nausea and vomiting - Macmillan Cancer Support, Tips for diet problems | Coping with cancer | Cancer Research UK).

Changes to diet can also help to alleviate diarrhoea and constipation. Starchy foods that are low in fibre, such as white bread, pasta and rice and potatoes without their skins and small frequent meals of light foods such as white fish and eggs can help to control diarrhoea. By contrast, high-fibre foods such as vegetables, fruit and whole grains, together with drinking enough fluids, can help to prevent constipation (Bladder and bowel problems - Macmillan Cancer Support, Tips for diet problems | Cancer Research UK).

It’s important to be aware that constipation can be a sign of a blocked bowel, which needs immediate medical attention. You should contact your team or another health professional urgently if you have any of the following symptoms or are worried:

  • intermittent, and occasionally severe, abdominal pain – this is always bought on by eating
  • unintentional weight loss – with persistent abdominal pain
  • constant swelling of the tummy – with abdominal pain
  • being sick – with constant abdominal swelling
  • Persistent diarrhoea (you can still have very loose bowel movements when you’re constipated. This is because liquid stool higher up in the bowel can pass any firmer stool blocking the bowel lower down. This is called ‘overflow diarrhoea’ and can cause very watery diarrhoea.)

Another symptom of cancer and side effect its treatment is fatigue, which is persistent tiredness that isn’t relieved by rest. If you aren’t eating and drinking enough to maintain your energy levels, this can contribute to fatigue, so it’s important to try and eat, even if you don’t feel like it (In focus: managing the effects of chemotherapy ... - My Ovacome). If symptoms or side effects are affecting your ability to eat a range of foods, your team may advise you to eat the foods that you can enjoy or tolerate rather than pushing yourself to eat different foods (In focus: diet - introduction: Hello, everyone... - My Ovacome).

You can find more detailed information about side effects of cancer treatment and ways to manage them at macmillan - Side effects of cancer treatment.

If you would like to share any foods or ways of eating that have helped you, or have any tips, please comment on this post. If you would like more information or have any questions, please contact our Support Service on 0800 008 7054 or at [email protected]