Skip to content

Caring for someone with cancer

If you’re caring for someone with cancer, you may need to help them manage eating issues caused by the cancer and its treatment. It’s natural to worry that the person you’re caring for isn’t eating well or is losing weight, but try to avoid tension about food, as this may only increase their anxiety and yours. They are likely to feel upset that they can’t finish or eat a meal you’ve prepared. There are many reasons why someone may not feel like eating. 

These tips may help you to support the person you’re caring for:

  • Ask them what they’d like to eat.
  • Gently encourage them to eat foods that are high in kilojoules and protein when they are feeling well.
  • Serve small amounts of food at a time and freeze the leftovers.
  • Have ready-to-eat food available for when they feel like eating (e.g. tinned fruit, yoghurt, frozen meals).
  • Keep mealtimes flexible and be willing to try new ideas or recipes.
  • Offer their favourite foods at the times when you know their appetite is good.
  • Make meals as enjoyable as possible – play music, set the table with candles and flowers.
  • Take care to prepare food safely.
  • Accept that during treatment the focus of the person with cancer may need to be on simply eating something, rather than on eating nutritious food all of the time.

If your child has cancer

The nutritional needs of children with cancer are different to adults, as children continue to grow and develop during treatment. The treatment team will monitor the weight and growth of your child closely during treatment.

Be flexible- Let your child eat when they feel like it, not just at mealtimes. Be flexible in what they eat, e.g. allow your child to have the same foods often or breakfast cereal for dinner if that’s what they prefer.

Offer nutritious food – Try not to make an issue of your child’s lack of appetite. Instead, encourage them to eat nutritious, high-kilojoule foods when they are feeling well.

Allow occasional treats – During treatment, any nourishment is better than none. Allow your child to eat fatty or sugary foods like cake, chips, chocolate and takeaway occasionally.

Eat at the table – Discourage your child from eating in front of the television or computer as it can be distracting.

Make mealtimes fun = Focus on making mealtimes as relaxed as possible and see them as an opportunity to come together to share stories and discuss any concerns. Regular family meals also give a child a sense of stability

Looking after yourself

Being a carer can bring a sense of satisfaction, but it can also be exhausting and stressful. Trying to prepare food for someone who is having trouble eating can be especially challenging.

It is important to look after your own wellbeing, so you also need to eat well and get some exercise. Give yourself some time out and share your concerns with somebody neutral such as a counsellor or your doctor, or call Cancer Council 13 11 20. There is a wide range of support available to help you with both the
practical and emotional aspects of your caring role.

Support services – Support services such as Meals on Wheels, home help or visiting nurses can help you in your caring role. You can find local services, as well as information and resources, by visiting the Carer Gateway or calling them on 1800 422 737.

Support groups and programs – Many cancer support groups and cancer education programs are open to carers as well as to people with cancer. Support groups and programs offer the chance to share experiences and ways of coping.

Carers Australia – Carers Australia provides information and advocacy for carers.

Cancer Council – You can call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to find out more about carers’ services.

For more information, download our ‘Caring for Someone with Cancer’ booklet.

Featured resource

Nutrition for People Living with Cancer

Download PDF

This information is reviewed by

This information was last updated July 2022 by the following expert content reviewers: Jacqueline Baker, Senior Oncology Dietitian, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Lauren Atkins, Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian, OnCore Nutrition, VIC; Dr Tsien Fua, Head and Neck Radiation Oncology Specialist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Rosemerry Hodgkin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Clare Hughes, Manager, Nutrition Unit, Cancer Council NSW; John Spurr, Consumer; Emma Vale, Senior Dietitian, GenesisCare, SA; David Wood, Consumer.

You might also be interested in: