Colorectal Cancer


Colorectal cancer – as well as its treatments and side effects – may make it harder to get all the nutrients your body needs. Your body may not digest food the way it normally does, or mouth sores may make eating uncomfortable. During and after treatment, good nutrition can help you keep your body strong, maintain a healthy weight, minimize side effects and improve your quality of life.

If You've Had Surgery

While you are recovering, your medical team will provide guidance about what to eat and what to avoid. These suggestions may also help:

  • Drink clear liquids such as tea, water, popsicles, broth and juice without pulp. Aim for 64 to 80 ounces of water each day.
  • Move gradually to other types of liquids such as milk and creamy soups.
  • Avoid high-fiber foods such as whole grains, raw vegetables, nuts, popcorn and chunky peanut butter.
  • Avoid fried foods, tough meats, sausage or hot dogs.
  • Introduce foods one at a time in small portions. Wait 1 to 2 hours to see how your body responds before trying more.

If you have an ostomy, your registered dietitian can help you manage your diet. A key thing to remember is to chew your food thoroughly.

Managing Side Effects Through Food Choices

Some symptoms from colorectal cancer and its treatment can be prevented or minimized by changing a few eating habits. For example, drinking plenty of water may ease dry mouth and replace lost fluids from diarrhea.

Mouth, tongue or throat soreness may occur if you have chemotherapy, which can make it harder to eat, drink and swallow.

Blend or cut food into smaller pieces. Cook food until it is tender. Choose softer, blander foods such as these:

  • Broths and sauces
  • Soups and stews
  • Cottage or ricotta cheese
  • Pancakes or cold cereal softened in milk
  • Mashed or sweet potatoes
  • Rice or risotto
  • Applesauce, smoothies, or yogurt
  • Custard, sherbet, or pudding
  • If you're having trouble swallowing, try the following:
    • Suck on frozen fruit pops or ice chips.
    • Drink liquids with your meals.
    • Sip cool drinks between meals.
    • Use a straw.
  • Avoid hot foods or those that make mouth sores worse, such as:
    • Salty, spicy, or acidic foods such as tomatoes and citrus fruits.
    • Carbonated or caffeinated drinks.
    • Alcohol.

Appetite loss can occur during and after cancer treatment. Here are some ways to help maintain a healthy weight:

  • Snack and eat small meals often.
  • Add protein to all meals and snacks.
  • Choose soft sources of protein such as ground meats, eggs, and smoothies.
  • Add whole milk, ice cream, or yogurt to smoothies or shakes.
  • Drink liquid nitrogen supplements.
  • Choose higher-fat butters, oils, cream cheese, or mayonaaise.

What if you lose too much weight or have trouble meeting all your nutritional needs with food? In that case, tube feedings through your esophagus or abdomen (enteral nutrition) can supplement or replace eating. If you can’t accept food by mouth, need bowel rest or are not absorbing nutrients well, intravenous (IV) feeding can also help.

Eating To Stay Healthier

What you put into your body may play a role in your energy level, your overall health and whether or not you develop a second cancer. Keep these things in mind:

  • Eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables every day. They contain antioxidants that enhance health and may lower the risk of some types of cancer.
  • Microwave or steam vegetables when cooking to preserve the most nutrients.
  • Add fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids to a plant-based diet. Some studies have shown these might lower the risk of certain cancers.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables well, and choose organic produce when you can to avoid exposure to chemicals and pesticides.
  • Limit red meat such as beef, pork and lamb to less than 18 ounces a week. Also limit processed meat such as bacon and deli meats. Both are linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Avoid saturated fats and fried foods. Instead, add healthier sources of fats such as avocados.
  • Limit alcohol, which some studies link to an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Do your best to maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is linked to a higher risk of many types of cancer, cancer recurrence and lower survival rates. But unintentional weight loss may cause your body to burn lean tissue, rather than fat.