Half of cancer patients not getting dietary advice

World Cancer Research Fund's Eat Well During Cancer booklet gives cancer patients the dietary advice they need
22 September 2017

Today, World Cancer Research Fund is launching Eat Well During Cancer, a booklet which shows people living with the symptoms of cancer and the side-effects of its treatment how they can cope better and still eat well by choosing the right food.

Lowering your risk of cancer

For many years, World Cancer Research Fund has helped people lower their risk of cancer by providing tips on eating well, getting lots of exercise and keeping a healthy weight.

Our advice has always been aimed at people who are cancer-free, whether they’ve never had a diagnosis or they’ve been given the all-clear. However, we frequently receive requests for healthy eating advice for people currently living with cancer.

Dietitian-approved information

Not only is there very little dietitian-approved information available that supports people living with cancer, but there is also a lack of consistency around a person’s entire cancer journey.

It can be difficult to know what to eat to help you cope with the side-effects of cancer while also maintaining a healthy diet, and there’s not much support out there.

Worrying lack of advice

In fact, World Cancer Research Fund’s new survey has found that that nearly half of cancer patients going through treatment receive no dietary advice at all that could help them with the side-effects they’re experiencing. Another 21 per cent only get ‘a small amount’ of advice.

The survey also questioned people who have a close family member who has had or is having cancer treatment – these questions found that only four per cent of those being treated for cancer receive ‘a lot of advice’ to help them cope.

These are worryingly low numbers, and something urgently needs to be done to improve them.

Healthy and balanced diet

That’s where our new booklet, endorsed by the British Dietetic Association, comes in.

Eat Well During Cancer advises people on the food that can help them cope better with some of the debilitating side-effects of their treatment, while having as much of a healthy and balanced diet as possible.

It covers a range of common side-effects – including weight loss, loss of appetite, constipation, diarrhoea, tiredness, sore mouth and change in taste – which can make eating a real challenge.

Make every mouthful count

One particularly prominent topic within the booklet is weight loss – up to 85 per cent of people have some weight loss during their cancer treatment.

As well as making eating difficult, some of these side-effects can mean that people are unable to absorb what they need from the food they do manage to eat – this can lead to malnutrition, which in turn can lead to poor quality of life and reduced tolerance of treatment. Devastatingly, malnutrition is the cause of one in five deaths in people with cancer.

So if someone is unintentionally losing weight, it’s important to make sure they get as much as possible from every mouthful. Often this means eating higher calorie foods which people associated with meaning, processed, ’unhealthy’ food such as biscuits, crisps, ice cream and sugary soft drinks.

However, as our booklet explains, there are ways of increasing your calories in a healthier way by choosing, for example, foods high in healthy fats like salmon, avocado, seeds and nuts. The booklet also features tips on how to add calories to everyday meals without adding bulk.

Exclusive recipes

As well as all these great tips, the booklet also contains exclusive recipes – such as salmon with a nut and seed crust, gazpacho and this delicious filling fruit smoothie – which show how to put the advice into practice. 

We hope you, a friend or loved one find the booklet useful.

By Sarah James – Health Information Publications Manager at World Cancer Research Fund

Other recipes include:


Tomatoes, pepper and cucumber give this cool soup a hot flavour. Mouth problems are a common side-effect of cancer treatment. This smooth, tomato-based soup has a lovely cooling effect for sore mouths.

Minestrone soup

This pasta-packed vegetarian soup is rich in fibre yet easy to eat. Beans boost protein in this easy supper, while all those different vegetables can ease constipation, a common side-effect of cancer treatment.

Chicken fajitas

This nutrient-rich twist on a Mexican favourite is bursting with flavour. These fajitas have a gentle spicy flavour. The guacamole helps to boost the calories, important for people experiencing weight loss.

Salmon with a nut and seed crust

This simple salmon dish is packed with goodness. Salmon is a tasty fish that’s simple to cook and rich in healthy fats. This recipe is good for those experiencing weight loss as it helps take in more calories, while still feeling light on the stomach.

Vegetable paella

A saffron-infused vegetarian supper that’s rich in fibre. This fragrant recipe is as tasty as a normal paella, and, by using brown rice, it can really help people who are experiencing constipation, a common cancer side-effect.

Banana and peanut butter flapjacks

A tempting snack that’s easy to nibble on and rich in calories. Snacking on high-calorie food like nuts is a good way to combat any weight loss that occurs as a result of cancer and cancer treatment.

Download your booklet here.