The Women's Health Resource. On the web since 1997.

Nutrition For Breast Cancer

Maintaining a well-balanced diet duringbreast cancer treatment can help patients better cope with side effects, regain strength, and rebuild tissues damaged by cancer.  However, some patients may find it difficult to eat well during treatment due to certain side effects (such as nausea or diarrhea) or the emotional burden a diagnosis of breast cancer can bring.  This section discusses the importance of maintaining a healthy diet during breast cancer treatment and offers suggestions on how to cope with side effects of treatment that may affect a patient’s eating habits(1).

Eat Well During Breast Cancer Treatment

The National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society recommend maintaining a varied diet during cancer treatment.  A varied diet includes daily servings of fruits and vegetables, proteins, grains, and dairy products.  Each person’s diet should be to modified to fit her personal needs.  For instance, if a certain breast cancer treatment causes diarrhea, a patient may want to temporarily reduce her intake of high-fiber foods (such as vegetables, fruits, cereals, and whole grains).  Breast cancer patients should talk to their physicians, nurses, or registered dietitians about maintaining proper nutrition during treatment.  Certain foods, vitamins, or minerals may interfere with cancer treatment.  

A varied diet provides several nutritional benefits:

  • Fruits: Good sources of vitamin C.  Fruits are usually low in calories and fat.
  • Vegetables: Excellent sources of fiber and vitamins (A and C).  Deep-yellow or dark-green vegetables are rich in vitamin A.
  • Proteins: May provide protein, iron, zinc, and B vitamins.   Meats, beans, nuts, and seeds provide these benefits.  Some seeds, like almonds, are good sources of vitamin E.
  • Dairy products: Milk and cheese provide calcium, protein, and vitamin B12.
  • Grains:  Breads, pasta, rice, and cereals provide carbohydrates and B vitamins.  Carbohydrates are an important source of energy. 

The following are suggestions for maintaining a well-balanced diet while experiencing side effects of breast cancer treatment.  Patients may want to try a variety of different suggestions or talk to a registered dietitian for more tips that may help during treatment.

Loss of Appetite

Loss of appetite can occur from a variety of breast cancer treatments, including chemotherapy,   radiation therapy, and several drug therapies including Aromasin. Loss of appetite may also result from other side effects such as nausea or vomiting or from the emotional burden of breast cancer. 

Suggestions for coping:

  • Eat several small meals instead of three regular meals.
  • Stock up on a variety of foods.
  • Try different settings when eating – the dining room, kitchen, with background music, watching television – anything that makes eating more appealing


Nausea can be a side effect of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, drug therapies, or other aspects of breast cancer.  Nearly 50% of patients experienced nausea and vomiting during their first treatment with the drug, Herceptin

Suggestions for coping:

  • Ask a physician about medications called antiemetics that help control nausea
  • Eating toast, crackers, yogurt, oatmeal, skinned chicken (not fried), and ice chips may help ease nausea.
  • Eat foods slowly and in small amounts.
  • Drink plenty of fluids but avoid drinks during meals because they may cause a bloated feeling.
  • Avoid eating right before treatment if treatment causes nausea.
  • Try cool foods.  Warm foods may worsen nausea.
  • Keep track of what foods can increase nausea, and try to avoid those if possible.


Vomiting often follows nausea.  Often, if a patient can control nausea, she can prevent vomiting.   Vomiting is a common side effect of chemotherapy, and drug treatment with Herceptin or Arimidex (generic name, anastrozole).  

Suggestions for coping:

  • Ask a physician about medications called antiemetics that help control nausea and vomiting.
  • Do not eat or drink until vomiting is under control.
  • Talk to a physician about trying a full-liquid diet until the vomiting has subsided and regular food can be kept down.