Loss of appetite due to chemotherapy

Loss of appetite due to chemotherapy

The loss of an appetite for food, known as anorexia, is one of the most common problems caused by cancer treatment. Your child's health care team will monitor weight carefully throughout treatment. There are things you can try to encourage your child's appetite.

Why can children having chemotherapy lose their appetite?

The loss of an appetite for food, known as anorexia, is one of the most common problems caused by cancer treatment. Children suffering from nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation, an altered sense of smell or taste, mouth sores, and other uncomfortable side effects, understandably don't feel hungry. As well as the loss of appetite, the child may experience a side effect called early filling, where they feel full after only a few bites of food. This can lead to weight loss. Weight loss is a common side effect and the health care team will monitor weight carefully throughout treatment.

What can I do to encourage an appetite?

If you are worried about your child not getting enough to eat, the following are suggestions for encouraging an appetite:

  • there are ideas for increasing your child's food intake in order to maintain weight in Loss of appetite & weight loss in childhood cancer - advice about nutrition
  • your child may be reluctant to eat if they have a sore mouth. There are suggestions that may help in Sore mouth & throat in childhood cancer - advice about nutrition
  • allow access to food at all times. 'Grazing' is OK
  • it may be that your child has indigestion. If so, speak to your doctor who will give medicine to help. Chewing food well and resting after eating can help minimize indigestion too. If your child is producing a lot of saliva, encourage them to spit it out rather than swallow it
  • try not to worry as you can use the time between treatments to make up for lost eating

What can I do if I am worried?

Phone the hospital and speak to your child's doctor or dietitian if you need more help. You can find the hospital phone number if you printed and filled out the page Important contacts for your child with cancer.

Where to go for more information and support

On this website:
Childhood cancer: Where to go for more information and support

All the fact sheets in the Childhood cancer section of this website have been written by health professionals who work in the field of paediatric oncology. They have been reviewed by the members of the National Child Cancer Network (NZ). Medical information is authorised by the National Child Cancer Network Clinical Leader.

This page last reviewed 22 June 2013.
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