Eating problems

Stomach cancer can cause problems with eating. It’s important to eat and drink enough calories and protein to maintain your weight and strength.

There is support available to help you cope with eating problems caused by stomach cancer, both during and after treatment.  

Eating problems

Food moving too fast into the small bowel causes dumping syndrome. It can happen just after you’ve eaten or sometime after.

Dumping syndrome just after a meal means the food is more concentrated than the fluids in the gut. So the gut draws water in to dilute the food. This causes a sudden drop in your blood pressure and you can feel faint and dizzy.

Dumping syndrome that happens some time after you have eaten is due to a sudden rise in your blood sugar. Food passes into your small bowel and the bowel absorbs sugar. The body produces a sudden rush of the hormone, insulin. Insulin makes your blood sugar drop and you can feel very faint.

Tips to reduce dumping syndrome
  • Eat slowly.
  • Reduce the amount of sugary foods you eat.
  • Increase the fat content of your food to replace the calories from sugary foods.
  • Eat smaller meals more regularly (if possible).
  • Avoid soup and very liquid foods.

Talk to your dietitian or specialist doctor if you are having problems which might be dumping syndrome. They can help diagnose whether or not you have dumping syndrome and give you advice. 

You might have diarrhoea after surgery. There are several reasons for this.

After the surgeon removes part or all of your stomach, food moves through more quickly and this can cause diarrhoea.

Surgery to remove the tumour and lymph nodes also affects the vagus nerve. During surgery, the surgeon divides the vagus nerve to remove the tumour and the lymph nodes. This nerve controls the:

  • movement of your food through the bowel
  • production of digestive juices

Diarrhoea happens occasionally and can last for about a day, sometimes longer. You might pass watery stools several times a day for several days out of each week. In a few people, this causes sudden and urgent attacks of diarrhoea. It can be difficult to treat. Sometimes taking anti diarrhoea medicine early in the morning can help.

Talk to your dietician. They will look at your diet and give you advice about which foods to avoid.

This is when your stools float, look pale or have a bad smell. It is caused by undigested fat. You may need to take some tablets (digestive enzymes) to help digest the fat. Talk to your doctor if you see these changes to your stools.

You might vomit in the morning after removal of part of the stomach (partial gastrectomy). Bile and digestive juices can build up overnight in the small bowel. It can spill back into the remains of your stomach making you feel full and sick. Vomiting up the excess fluid relieves the discomfort.

Medicines which help the stomach to empty, such as domperidone or metoclopramide (Maxalon) might help. But they might not get rid of your symptoms altogether, and they might make other problems worse, such as diarrhoea. 

It's important to discuss this with your surgeon if your symptoms are severe. Some people need surgery.

Wind and pain can be a problem after stomach surgery. A few drops of peppermint oil in hot water can help. Sip it slowly. It can relieve trapped wind and pain.

Foods that might cause indigestion include fizzy drinks, alcohol, spicy food, pickles and citrus fruits.

For many people, the side effects of cancer and treatment make it difficult to eat enough to stay at a healthy weight. This can be very upsetting and worrying. Speak to your clinical nurse specialist or dietitian about any eating problems. They will get you any help that you need.

Dietitians can help you cope with eating problems and suggest ways of dealing with diet difficulties. You should have a dietician working in your multi disciplinary team (MDT). Your doctor or nurse will refer you. 

Ask to see a dietitian to help you cope with any eating problems. They can support you with diet problems from diagnosis, through treatment and afterwards.

Eating problems can be difficult to cope with. They can cause tension within relationships or families. Events and eating out with friends can be much harder when you have a problem swallowing. Talking to your dietitian or a counsellor can help.

It is important to get help as soon as you start to have problems.

Last reviewed: 
17 Jan 2020
  • Postgastrectomy complications
    Uptodate, May 2016

  • Oesophago-gastric cancer: assessment and management in adults  [NG83]
    National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)
    Published January 2018

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