Preventing Dehydration During Cancer Treatment

Katrina VB. Claghorn, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.
Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: February 1, 2012

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The importance of fluids

During cancer treatment, it is very important that you be well hydrated. Water is needed to keep your body functioning. It is needed for regulating your temperature and for removing wastes and toxins. Two-thirds of your body is water. Even mild dehydration can cause some of the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Feeling light headed
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Constipation
  • Nausea

What you should do to avoid dehydration

You should have at least 64 ounces of fluid a day. You can do this by drinking:

  • Eight, 8-ounce glasses or
  • Six, 12-ounce glasses of fluid a day.

If you have a fever, diarrhea or vomiting you will need more fluids to replace fluids that are lost. Thirst is not always a good indicator of how well you are hydrated. Keep track of the fluids you drink to make sure you are getting enough fluids to stay hydrated.

Good sources of liquids to keep you hydrated

All food contains some fluid. Only those that are liquid at room temperature should be counted toward your goal of 64 ounces per day. The following is a list of foods and beverages that can be counted toward your fluid goal:

  • Water
  • Milk
  • Coffee*
  • Tea*
  • Fruit or vegetable juice
  • Soda*
  • Gatorade®
  • Soup and broth
  • Gelatin
  • Ice cream
  • Fruit ice
  • Popsicles
  • Sorbets
  • Nutritional supplements, such as Boost or Ensure
  • Hot chocolate
  • Milkshakes
  • Ice cubes and ice chips

* Drinks that contain caffeine will contribute to fluid loss. Use decaffeinated versions of these drinks instead.

If you do not like to drink plain water, try carbonated waters, flavored waters, add a slice of lemon or lime, or mix water with fruit juice.

If you have severe vomiting and can't keep fluids down, try sucking on ice cubes and ice chips, and taking small sips of fluids frequently. This will be better tolerated, than drinking 6 or 8 ounces at one time.

Table to Help You Keep Track of Your Fluids

  • 1 quart = 4 cups = 32 ounces = 960ml
  • 1 pint = 2 cups = 16 ounces = 480 ml
  • 1 cup = 8 ounces = 240 ml
  • 1/2 cup = 4 ounces = 120 ml
  • 1/4 cup = 2 ounces = 60 ml


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