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Learn about heartburn in people with cancer in this guide from The ONE Group (Oncology – Nutrition – Exercise) at Penn State College of Medicine.

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What you should know

What is heartburn?

Heartburn is a condition that causes a burning sensation in the chest.

Heartburn is caused by acid reflux – stomach acid refluxing back into the esophagus.


  • Developing a sour taste in your mouth
  • Pain or swelling in the throat
  • Burning sensation in the chest
  • Nausea or loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Gum irritation
  • Bad breath
  • Stomach noises

What you can do: Improving your eating to minimize heartburn

Foods that trigger heartburn

  • Fried foods, such as onion rings and French fries
  • Full-fat dairy products, such as butter, whole milk, regular cheese or sour cream
  • Citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruit, lemons, tomatoes and pineapple
  • Chocolate
  • Garlic, onions and spicy foods
  • Caffeine
  • Mint

Foods that help with heartburn

  • Vegetables such as green beans, broccoli, cauliflower and cucumbers
  • Ginger
  • Oatmeal
  • Non-citrus fruits such as melons, bananas and apples
  • Lean meats and seafood such as chicken, turkey and fish
  • Egg whites
  • Healthy fats such as avocados, walnuts and flax seeds
  • Oils such as olive oil, sesame oil and sunflower oil

Lifestyle changes that can help to minimize heartburn

  • Try to avoid stress. Stress can cause heartburn or make the heartburn worse. Try meditating in the mornings to relieve stress.
  • Sometimes it helps to lose weight. Ask for a referral to a dietitian. They can help with a more personalized diet.
  • Exercise moderately for 15 to 30 minutes every day.
  • Wait an hour after eating to exercise.
  • Avoid laying down after eating a meal.
  • Try not to eat within two to three hours before you go to bed. This can help prevent the secretion of extra acids. Laying down can make the pain worse.
  • Sleep with your head and shoulders elevated.
  • Enjoy smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. Eat each meal slowly.
  • Wear loose clothing.
  • Keep a food diary to note which foods cause heartburn.
  • Avoid tobacco.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol.

Where can I find more information about aerobic and strength-training exercises?

If you are interested in starting aerobic and/or strength-training exercises, The ONE Group (Oncology – Nutrition – Exercise) provides videos demonstrating proper form for more than 50 exercises.

See the videos here


Contact your physician if:

  • You are having symptoms of heartburn. Your physician may prescribe medication to help relieve the heartburn.
  • You notice blood in your bowel movements.
  • You have difficulty breathing, eating or swallowing.


  • American Cancer Society