During cancer treatment, your immune system may not work as well as it normally does. This is because cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, which are aimed at stopping fast growing cancer cells, also affect other fast growing healthy cells, such as immune cells. The good news is that immune cells recover quickly when treatment stops.
While undergoing cancer treatment, eating well helps keep your immune system working at its best. Practicing good food safety is also very important to help protect you from food poisoning.
If you are having problems eating or have had unplanned weight loss this information may not be appropriate for you. Speak with a Registered Dietitian about your nutritional needs.
Steps You Can Take
Eating enough calories (carbohydrates and fat) and protein is the best way to keep your immune system strong. The fact sheet "Healthy Eating Guidelines for After A Cancer Diagnosis" provides tips to help you get enough calories and protein.
Follow a balanced diet and eat a variety of foods. Individual foods or nutrients haven't been found to boost the immune system. If you hear about a food being good for you, include it in a normal portion as part of a balanced varied diet, rather than eating large quantities of that food.
Eating food is the best way to get the right amount of the vitamins and minerals that your body needs.
- Vitamin, mineral, herbal or other supplements in large doses have not been shown to help your immune system and certain supplements may interfere with cancer treatments.
- If you are not able to eat a well balanced diet, you may want to take a once-a-day multivitamin and mineral supplement that provides additional vitamins and minerals in amounts close to the daily recommendations for adults.
- For more information on dietary supplements, see the fact sheet "Healthy Eating Guidelines for After a Cancer Diagnosis: Dietary Supplements".
Practice good food safety. This is important for everyone, but because cancer treatments may temporarily weaken the immune system people receiving cancer treatment are at greater risk for food poisoning. Use care with the following foods while you are receiving cancer treatments:
- Cook all meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, and eggs thoroughly.
- Avoid raw sushi.
- Avoid raw sprouted seeds such as bean sprouts, radish sprouts and alfalfa sprouts. These are fine if thoroughly cooked.
- Deli meats, hot dogs, liver pate and smoked seafood should be cooked before being eaten.
- Avoid unpasteurized milk, juice or cider.
- Avoid soft and semi-soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, such as feta and Brie, unless these are thoroughly cooked. Cream cheese, cottage cheese, hard cheeses (like cheddar, Swiss and havarti) and processed cheese are fine.
HealthLinkBC Files Available at www.healthlinkbc.ca/servicesresources/healthlinkbcfiles/.
- Food Safety: Ten Easy Steps to Make Foods Safe
- Foods to Avoid for People at Higher Risk of Food-borne Illness
Dietitian Services Fact Sheets available by mail (call 8-1-1) or at www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthyeating:
- Healthy Eating Guidelines for After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis
- Healthy Eating Guidelines for After a Prostate Cancer Diagnosis
- Healthy Eating Guidelines for Cancer Survivors
- Healthy Eating Guidelines for After a Cancer Diagnosis: Dietary Supplements
- Healthy Eating Guidelines for After a Cancer Diagnosis: Alcohol
BC Cancer Agency www.bccancer.bc.ca
Last updated: October 2008