When you have liver cancer, eating a well-balanced diet promotes healing and supports your overall well-being.
Liver cancer symptoms and the side effects of some treatments may affect your ability to eat. For example, you may develop a loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
To help you meet your nutritional needs, your doctor may recommend changes to your diet or eating habits. They may also refer you to a registered dietitian nutritionist who can provide additional support.
Take a moment to learn about your nutritional needs with liver cancer.
There’s currently no one diet that’s recommended for people with liver cancer.
Your healthcare provider will likely encourage you to eat a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources.
Getting enough calories and nutrients is important. If you’re finding it hard to eat due to loss of appetite, nausea, or other symptoms, you might find it helpful to eat smaller snacks and meals on a more frequent basis. Drinking high protein and high calorie beverages such as milkshakes or liquid nutritional supplements may also help.
Staying well hydrated is important as well, especially if you’ve been experiencing vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation.
Your healthcare provider can provide more specific nutritional guidance. They can help create a healthy diet plan based on your needs.
Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of fuel. A ketogenic (keto) diet is very low in carbohydrates and high in fat. On the keto diet, about 5 to 10 percent of your daily calories come from carbohydrates, 80 percent from fat, and the remaining 10 to 15 percent from protein.
Drastically cutting back on carbohydrates puts your body into a state of ketosis, where it becomes very efficient at burning fat for energy. Your liver also begins producing ketones and fatty acids for energy. These support healthy cells but not cancer cells.
Research from 2020 found that following a keto diet may help slow the growth of cancer cells. The researchers note that some evidence suggests a keto diet might also make cancer cells more sensitive to chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or some targeted therapies.
The researchers also note that other studies have found that a keto diet has no effect on tumor growth and may even increase tumor growth in certain types of cancers. Different types of tumors may respond to the diet in different ways.
More research is needed on the potential benefits and risks of following a keto diet when you have liver cancer.
- fruits and vegetables, such as apples and leafy greens
- whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, and oats
- lean protein sources, such as skinless chicken, fish, tofu, and beans
- low fat dairy products, such as fat-free milk, cheese, and yogurt
- nuts and seeds
In some cases, your healthcare professional may encourage you to increase your calorie or protein intake. This may help support healing and liver function.
Your healthcare professional might also encourage you to take certain nutritional supplements. For example, research from 2015 suggests that branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) supplementation may help improve liver function in people with liver cancer.
For good overall health and liver function, your provider may encourage you to limit foods that are high in:
- saturated or trans fats, such as
red meats, full-fat milk, and pastries
- added sugars, such as sweetened beverages, cakes, cookies, and candies
- salts, such as sodium-rich canned soups, cured meats, and potato chips
Eating certain high calorie foods can also help you get the energy your body needs. This may be especially important if you’ve been finding it hard to eat due to loss of appetite or other symptoms. Your healthcare provider can help you learn how to balance your dietary needs.
Your provider will likely encourage you to avoid alcohol, which is hard on the liver. Ask your provider about treatment options if you think you might have alcohol use disorder.
It’s important to avoid eating undercooked fish or shellfish, such as raw oysters or sushi. Raw and undercooked seafood may contain bacteria that can cause serious illness in people with liver disease.
Some people with liver cancer have other types of liver disease, which may require additional dietary adjustments. If you have bile duct disease, your provider may encourage you to use fat substitutes. If you have hemochromatosis or hepatitis C, they may advise you to limit iron-rich foods such as iron-fortified cereals.
Depending on your condition and overall health, your recommended treatment plan for liver cancer may include surgery.
After surgery, your body needs to get enough calories and nutrients to support your recovery. Malnutrition may increase your risk of surgical complications.
Your provider will likely encourage you to begin eating again shortly after your surgery is done. If your stomach is upset, you may want to eat bland foods such as plain rice, toast, and unseasoned chicken.
Constipation is common after surgery. You might find it helpful to take a fiber supplement. Your provider may also recommend a mild laxative.
If you’re finding it hard to eat enough before or after surgery, your healthcare provider might prescribe oral nutritional supplements. They might also encourage you to consume nutritionally fortified beverages, puddings, or powders that can be mixed with liquids.
Some people need to have a feeding tube inserted into their stomach before or after surgery. This is known as enteral feeding.
Getting enough calories, protein, and other nutrients is essential for promoting healing and good overall health when you have liver cancer. Malnutrition may raise your risk of complications, lower your chances of survival, and reduce your quality of life.
Ask your provider what foods you should eat, limit, or avoid to help protect your liver and meet your body’s nutritional needs. If you’re finding it hard to eat enough or think you may be at risk of malnutrition, let your provider know.
In some cases, your provider may refer you to a registered dietitian who can develop strategies to ensure you get enough nutrients.