Before Cancer Treatment

Working toward healthier living before cancer treatment can help you better cope with the effects during treatment and after treatment ends. Individuals who eat healthy and stay active are typically able to better manage side effects, have a quicker recovery and feel better overall during and after treatment. Talking to your doctor or dietitian at the beginning of your cancer journey will help you to evaluate your health and any changes you can begin making now that will be beneficial once treatment starts.

Estimating caloric needs

Patients undergoing cancer treatment usually have very specific nutritional needs, based on body size and personal and medical considerations. As a general rule of thumb, most individuals require anywhere from 25 to 35 calories per kilogram of body weight per day (1 kg equals 2.2 pounds). To maintain current weight, most people require anywhere from 1,600 to 2,500 calories per day, as well as 75 to 120 grams of protein. Males generally need more calories than females, and your prior nutritional status (underweight or overweight) also makes a difference in the total number of calories you’ll need. Protein needs tend to increase for individuals in treatment and can range from 1.0 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Regardless of your body weight at the start of treatment, you should avoid weight loss during treatment. A registered dietitian will be able to help you tailor your nutrition plan specifically to you.

Assessing nutritional status

Nearly eight out of 10 cancer patients develop some decrease in their nutritional status, making optimal nutrition an important goal before, during and after treatment. Your nutritional status is a reflection of how the nutrients in your diet affect your health. It’s important in determining risks that may develop from cancer treatments. Early detection of nutritional problems can help prevent or reduce certain side effects of cancer treatment, including malnutrition from decreased food intake (often resulting from taste changes or oral complications).

Your doctor or dietitian will take into account several factors when determining your nutritional status. This may include blood markers, which may determine if you have any specific deficiencies, and the physical appearance of your skin and nails, which may indicate certain nutrition or hydration issues. It’s also important to take notice of any wounds that do not heal, as this may indicate a nutritional deficiency interfering with the health of your immune system.

Presurgical nutrition requirements

Extra nutrients become necessary when the body needs to heal wounds and fight infections. If a person is malnourished before surgery, it may lead to problems during recovery. In the weeks leading up to surgery, be sure to eat a well-balanced diet and drink plenty of water. There are nutritional beverages available designed with an immunonutrient blend that can help boost the immune system before surgery and reduce the risk of infection after. Talk to your doctor about whether this is an option for you. Also be sure to ask your doctor about avoiding certain vitamins, supplements or medications in the weeks prior to your surgery.

Fears and worries

The effects of cancer treatment are different from person to person. Not everyone experiences side effects that make it difficult to eat or obtain adequate nutrition, and those that do may have only mild symptoms easily managed with medication or dietary changes. Talking to your health care team about your fears and worries before treatment begins can help reduce any anxiety you may be feeling. By learning as much as you can about your cancer and treatment plan, you can better prepare for how you will cope with certain side effects you may be likely to experience.

Ensuring good oral health

Your health care team may require you to see a dentist before beginning treatment. Approximately one-third of cancer patients develop complications from cancer treatment that affect the mouth, including the teeth, gums, tongue, lining of the mouth and salivary glands. These side effects can include changes in taste, trouble swallowing, mouth sores and dry mouth. As a result, food intake and nutrition often decline, affecting treatment and recovery. Serious side effects such as these can delay, or even stop, cancer treatment. Visiting your dentist before starting cancer treatment can help prevent painful mouth problems that may result as a side effect of cancer treatment.

Helpful apps & websites


Cancer.Net Mobile – Informative and interactive tool to learn, keep track of
questions to ask health care providers, save information about prescribed
medications, and record symptoms.
LIVESTRONG MyPlate Calorie Tracker – Reach your diet, weight loss and
fitness goals by tracking your calories, charting your progress and staying motivated.


My Life Check – Learn the state of your heart and what you
can do to live a better life.
PearlPoint Nutrition Services – Learn about nutrition and cancer,
and schedule a time to talk one-on-one with a registered dietitian.
Cancer Prevention Recommendations – Learn about what you can
do to reduce your chance of cancer.