Side effects and diet

There are a number of side effects which could impact on your diet


If you can avoid preparing and cooking food, let someone else do it for you.  The smell of food cooking can make you feel worse so try and stay away from the kitchen if possible.  Also fried, highly flavoured or fatty foods can make this seem worse so simple, chilled or cold meals are often tolerated better.

Sometimes sucking a boiled sweet, trying ginger flavoured chilled drinks or teas, nibbling a plain biscuit or drinking fizzy water can help.

If nausea is so bad that it prevents you from eating and you are losing weight, anti- sickness medication can be prescribed alongside your treatment drugs to enable you to eat and feel better.

Sore mouth

A sore and/or very dry mouth can be the side effect of medication or treatment such as radiotherapy. Simple measures that can help are choosing foods that have mild flavours and a relatively soft texture, as highly spiced and high fibre foods like crusty bread, vegetables, fruit or sharp flavours in juices can irritate the lining of the mouth.  Sucking home-made ice cubes made with fresh tap water or weak squash can help keep your mouth moist and the coldness can help with discomfort.  If your mouth is extremely sore or becomes more inflamed, you may need to use a special mouth wash or be advised to use pain relief to allow you to eat comfortably.

Poor appetite

If you have a poor appetite the thought of preparing and then eating a meal or snack can be difficult.  Often the sight of a large amount of food is off putting and so you can quickly find yourself in a situation where you are eating less and less every day.  First of all, allow others to help if they offer. Someone else taking the decision of what to prepare means you do not have to think of it and when you get the meal you find you can manage a small amount after all.  Also small frequent meals are much better than 3 main meals a day so have little and often when possible.  Don’t worry too much about ‘healthy’ eating as it is better to have two puddings than no lunch at all!  Also to make sure every mouthful counts do not routinely use low fat, low sugar foods and add extra spread, grated cheese, cream or preserves to increase calorie value of foods.

Constipation and diarrhoea

Both of these bowel problems can be the result of oral medication, chemotherapy and also radiotherapy.  You may be prescribed medication to help you deal with either condition alongside your AML treatment.  However, remember that regular meals as a well-balanced diet, plenty of fruit and vegetables (but do not overdo) and fluids are key to managing both diarrhoea and constipation.

Also regular physical activity- even a short walk for 10 minutes in the fresh air will help regulate your bowels and make you feel better by being more active.

What about ‘special diets’?

On a large population basis if scientists look at disease and dietary intake, there are links between dietary patterns in populations and disease incidence, an example being low intakes fruit and vegetables are linked to the development of bowel cancers, but this is not the only factor.  Therefore, eating more fruit and vegetables will not cure bowel cancer but that over a lifetime ensuring your 5 a day every day will help protect against bowel cancer.

Therefore, as mentioned before it is important that you do not follow any unnecessarily restrictive and limiting diets that cut out entire food groups- e.g. no diary or no foods containing carbohydrate, gluten free or suddenly swapping to vegetarian or vegan diets if you previously ate animal products.  There is no evidence that diet alone causes any type of cancers and certainly elimination of food stuffs from your diet will not improve or cure a cancer over conventional medical care.

Another dietary consideration often asked about is the use of dietary supplements in the form of over the counter excessive amounts of vitamins or minerals.  There is no evidence that these dietary components, that are normally required in very small amounts, will convey any additional benefit in the treatment of blood cancers.  You may be given transfusions of red blood cells or prescriptions of iron tablets with some B vitamins such as folic acid and these must be taken as advised.

...and remember

Mealtimes are a key time of day and try to eat with friends and family to help you maintain as normal a routine as possible. This is an enjoyable social activity and may help take your mind off your treatment for a short while and so are key to your overall health and recovery.

Published date: March 2018

Review date: March 2020