Nutrition Advice: Abdominal Area

For patients receiving radiation therapy to the abdominal area.

Introduction and Brief Description

Radiation therapy to the abdominal area such as the stomach, the hepatic system, the pancreas and the abdominal cavity can result in nausea and decreased appetite. It usually does not occur until sometime after the first week of treatment. It is important to note, however, that while most do, some people receiving radiation treatment do not experience these side effects. The following suggestions are for your benefit and will help manage the potential side effects of radiation therapy to the abdominal region.

Nutrition Suggestions

The side effects of nausea and anorexia, the lack of appetite, occurs gradually, so you should be aware of any change in sensitivity to smells, general queasiness, or of food or fluid intake, and report the changes to your dietitian, nurse or doctor. The following are some nutrition suggestions, to start at the beginning of treatment, in an effort to minimize the possible effects of radiation to the abdomen.

  1. Minimize or avoid the consumption of greasy, fatty foods such as fried foods, chips and high fat meats. These foods have a tendency to sit in the stomach and contribute to that queasy feeling. Lower fat foods are generally much better tolerated.
  1. Minimize or avoid the consumption of spicy foods. Examples of spices that are known to irritate the system include: chili powder, cayenne, jalapeno pepper, mustard, and black pepper. Preparing your own food from scratch makes it easier to control the amount and type of seasoning being used. If you do choose processed foods, be particularly careful with spicy soups, sauces, stews, fresh or frozen selections.

If you start feeling queasy, and eating or drinking less than usual …

  1. Notify your Dietitian, Nurse and Doctor.
  2. Avoid wearing clothing that binds around the waist and abdomen.
  3. Keep areas at home, work or school well-ventilated and free from overpowering smells.
  4. Consider consuming 4-5 smaller lower fat but nutritious meals instead of 3 larger meals; this helps with digestion and adds extra calories to your diet with greater comfort.
  5. Try not eating for an hour or two before and/or after treatment. Some people report this helps avoid queasiness. It is important, however, to plan for this and not stretch the time without food any longer than necessary. One solution is to pack snacks and bring them with you.
  6. Select foods that can safely be served and eaten at room temperature or cold. They often have fewer odors and are better tolerated.
  1. Select nutritious foods that are good sources of calories, protein, carbohydrates, and/or vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Carnation Instant Breakfast® added to regular or Lactaid® milk is generally easier to tolerate than other higher-fat liquid supplements.
  2. Avoid nutritionally deficient foods…make everything you eat and drink count!
  3. Try products containing ginger, such as ginger tea, ginger candy and ginger ale.
  4. Limit or avoid caffeine-containing beverages because they can contribute to dehydration. The exception in this category might be Coke Syrup, an age-old remedy for nausea. Examples of caffeine-containing beverages include: caffeinated coffee and tea, colas and some additional sodas that have caffeine added such as Mountain Dew, Surge, and certain root beers and orange-flavored sodas.
  5. Consume plenty of non-caffeinated beverages and foods that are liquid at room temperature such as Jell-O*, ice cream*, and Italian ices*.


  1. Tell your nurse and doctor if you are starting to feel nauseous. There are prescription medications that help to relieve that feeling.
  1. Add Pedialyte® Pedialyte Pops® or other specialized water products with added electrolytes such as diluted Gatorade® to your daily fluid intake if you start to vomit. This will help avoid dehydration and electrolyte imbalances that can result.

The following foods are bland and easier to digest when experiencing diarrhea

  • Smooth peanut butter
  • Rice
  • Fruit sauces
  • Lean beef or pork
  • Pasta
  • Fresh or canned fruit
  • Hummus
  • White bread
  • White grape juice**
  • Skinless poultry
  • Cold cereal (dry or with milk)
  • Cranberry juice**
  • Cheese (cottage, hard or soft)
  • Crackers, Pretzels
  • Flat or bubbly soda**

Commercially prepared liquids such as those made by Carnation Instant Breakfast (added to low-fat milk) can be very effective and easy ways to get extra nutrition.

*Please do not disregard previously defined dietary restrictions for heart disease, diabetes, or any other condition unless discussed with your dietitian, nurse, or doctor.

**Limit or dilute high sugar/natural sugar containing foods if diarrhea is persistent.

For any additional questions or needed information, please call your registered oncology dietitians, Kathryn Hamilton or Mary-Giselle Ulbrich at 973-971-6232