Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that stops or delays the growth of cancer cells. Healthcare experts advise that a person undergoing chemotherapy can have pizza if they are able to tolerate this food.

Chemotherapy may affect a person’s sense of taste, appetite, and ability to absorb nutrients from food. Pizza is a flavorful, high calorie food that has nutritional value as a snack. It may help prevent weight loss in people undergoing cancer treatment.

This article provides an overview of nutrition and chemotherapy and information on eating pizza during chemotherapy. We also discuss chemotherapy-induced changes to eating and drinking, how to manage them, and when to consult a doctor.

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A nutritious diet includes the following essential nutrients:

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recommends that people undergoing cancer treatment consume a largely plant-based diet and take regular exercise. The NCI states that this can help with the following during cancer treatment:

  • maintaining a moderate body weight
  • maintaining physical strength
  • reducing treatment side effects, both during and after cancer treatment

The American Cancer Society (ACS) adds that people undergoing chemotherapy will often require additional calories and protein to help with the following:

  • counteracting weight loss
  • increasing energy levels
  • promoting healing

Suitable snacks

The ACS recommends snacking to help boost strength and energy levels during cancer treatment, but only if a person is losing weight. Some high protein, high calorie snacks it recommends include:

  • yogurt
  • cereal with milk
  • cheese and crackers
  • peanut butter or grilled cheese sandwiches
  • nuts and seeds

Cancer treatments can cause issues that may make it difficult for a person to eat or drink. The severity of these issues may depend on the type of chemotherapy drugs the doctor administers and the method of administration.

According to Cancer Research UK, some chemotherapy drugs can directly affect the salivary glands in the mouth, causing a change in taste perception. A person may avoid certain foods and beverages because they taste different from how they usually do. Some people also develop a preference for spicy food.

Treatments that affect a person’s sense of smell can also affect their sense of taste.

Taste and smell changes can include:

  • not being able to smell things as before or noticing a reduced sense of smell
  • noticing that things smell different or that certain smells are more pungent than others
  • experiencing a bitter or metallic taste in the mouth
  • sensing that food tastes too sweet or salty
  • sensing that food tastes bland

Medical experts recommend the following approaches for people who are experiencing side effects related to eating and drinking:

  • eating small meals throughout the day
  • taking small sips of liquids while eating to prevent feeling full
  • engaging in physical activity
  • keeping high calorie foods to hand for snacking
  • eating favorite foods any time of the day

Pizza is a soft food typically consisting of leavened wheat-based dough topped with cheese, tomatoes, and other ingredients.

The Department of Agriculture notes that a slice of 14-inch cheese-topped pizza from a typical fast food restaurant will contain the following nutrients:

  • 12.2 grams (g) of protein
  • 35.6 g of carbohydrate
  • 285 calories of energy
  • 10.4 g of fat

As the above indicates, a single slice of pizza can be a nutritious snack, particularly for someone looking to maintain their weight during chemotherapy.

The Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center offers a feature where cancer survivors offer nutritional tips for people looking to boost their appetite during chemotherapy. One survivor reports that eating cheese pizza improved their sense of taste due to the spice in the sauce.

According to the University of Michigan Health, feel-good foods, such as cheesy pizza, can provide comfort and be a suitable source of nutrition during chemotherapy.

Ways to make pizza more nutritious may include:

  • using whole wheat pizza dough
  • using less mozzarella cheese
  • topping with a variety of vegetables
  • spreading with low sugar pizza sauce

A person needs to consult a doctor if they experience any of the following chemotherapy-related gastrointestinal issues:

It may be beneficial for a person to keep a food journal so that they can identify foods that trigger or exacerbate their symptoms.

During the consultation, the doctor will evaluate the person’s symptoms and review medications they are taking. They may also work with a dietician to devise an appropriate diet that alleviates symptoms while maintaining optimum nutrition levels.

Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that kills cancer cells or prevents them from growing and spreading. People undergoing chemotherapy may notice changes in their sense of taste, smell, or appetite. They may also have difficulty digesting food and absorbing nutrients, which may affect their ability to maintain a moderate weight.

Pizza is a flavorful, high calorie food that offers suitable nutritional value as a snack. Healthcare professionals advise that a person can eat pizza during chemotherapy if their body tolerates the food.

A person should talk with their doctor if they experience gastrointestinal side effects during or after chemotherapy. The doctor may work with a dietitian to formulate an appropriate diet that eases the problematic side effects while maintaining optimal nutrition levels.