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Poor Appetite

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last review date: September 2017.

It is common for people with cancer to have changes in their appetites.1,2 Sometimes these changes may be linked to the cancer itself. In other cases, the change in appetite may be caused by cancer treatments.

Types of appetite changes

Common types of appetite changes include:

  • Eating less than usual
  • Feeling full after eating a small amount
  • Not feeling hungry at all

Possible causes

Appetite changes due to bladder cancer and its treatments can have many different possible causes. These include:

  • The impact of the cancer itself in the body
  • The body’s response in fighting the cancer cells
  • Having advanced cancer
  • Chemotherapy treatment
  • Radiation therapy treatment
  • Immunotherapy medicines
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Changes in taste and smell
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Pain
  • Fatigue, tiredness, and lack of energy
  • Mood changes, such as depression


Talk with your healthcare providers if you experience appetite loss or other types of appetite changes. It is important to find ways to treat appetite changes, because if they last for a long time, they can cause serious complications such as:

  • Weight loss
  • Malnutrition
  • Loss of muscle
  • Loss of strength

Improving appetite

If you are experiencing appetite loss or other types of appetite changes, your healthcare providers will talk with you about ways to help increase your appetite and ensure you get adequate nutrition.1

In many patients, poor appetite is caused by other symptoms such as pain, nausea, symptoms inside the mouth, mood changes, or pain. In those cases, an effective way to improve appetite is to treat the underlying symptom that is causing the poor appetite.

Available medications

There are also certain types of medications that may help to improve a patient’s appetite. Megestrol acetate (Megace) or medroxyprogesterone can help improve a patient’s appetite and help the patient to gain weight. Metoclopramide (Reglan) can help food to move more quickly out of the stomach and help the patient to eat more food without feeling too full too quickly. Dronabinol (Marinol) can also help to increase a patient’s appetite. Steroid medications can help to improve a patient’s appetite and possibly mood, as well as help reduce symptoms such as nausea and pain.

Make your meals work for you

It is important to make sure that you are getting enough nutrition, even if you do not feel like eating very much. Some patients find it easier to eat 5 or 6 small meals and snacks throughout the day whenever they are hungry, rather than trying to eat just 3 larger meals at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It may also be helpful to make sure that you have a stock of your favorite foods available to eat whenever you do feel hungry. Buying pre-cooked meals can be easier rather than trying to cook, especially if your energy level is low. Friends and family may also be willing to help shop for and prepare meals for you.

Consume nutritious snacks

To keep your energy levels up, it is helpful to consume nutritious snacks that are high in calories and protein, such as:

  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Dairy such as milk, smoothies, milkshakes and ice cream
  • Protein or granola bars

Some patients who experience changes in taste or smell find it helpful to eat hard candy or mints before a meal, or to add spices or sauces to food to make them taste better.

Light exercise

Doing some light exercise (developed with your healthcare provider) before meals may also help to increase your appetite and improve your strength.

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