01. Importance of Mesothelioma Nutrition
Why Does Nutrition Matter for Mesothelioma Patients?
Mesothelioma patients may target their nutrition to support treatment and recovery. It can also help boost overall health and improve quality of life. For instance, proper nutrients can prevent malnutrition and help patients maintain muscle strength. This can be particularly helpful for those weakened by mesothelioma treatments such as chemotherapy.
Diet and Other Factors Impacting Cancer Development
Cancer is caused by uncontrolled cell growth. When cells grow out of control, they form abnormal cells that can develop into a mass of tissue (tumor). Several factors can impact cancer progression, including:
- Diet and lifestyle factors: Nutrients, physical activity, smoking and more
- Environmental factors: Asbestos exposure, viruses, UV radiation and more
- Biological factors: Age, gender, genetics and more
Diet and nutrition play an important role for patients before, during and after cancer treatment.
Nutrition is the process of taking in food for growth, to replace tissue and to keep the body healthy. It involves eating and drinking foods and liquids with key nutrients the body needs. Important nutrients include vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, fat and water.
Good nutrition can help the body repair itself, grow stronger and boost the immune system. Patients may look to healthy eating to maintain their overall health. They may also find diet changes can help ease discomfort from mesothelioma symptoms and treatment side effects.
How Does Nutrition Help Treatment Side Effects?
Mesothelioma patients can work with their doctors to adjust different parts of their diet to help address specific treatment side effects. The effects of cancer vary by patient and type of treatment. However, common side effects that may improve with dietary changes include:
- Changes to taste
- Loss of appetite
- Sensitivity to smell
- Trouble chewing
- Trouble swallowing
- Feeling full too soon
- Dry mouth
- Mouth sores
- Sore throat
*Source: National Cancer Institute’s website
Chemotherapy side effects, in particular, are often a concern for mesothelioma patients. Chemotherapy can cause mouth issues, chewing and swallowing problems, as well as major changes to taste and smell. Patients can work with a dietitian to adjust their eating habits to accommodate these treatment side effects.
Small dietary changes may help patients find their appetite, eat comfortably and maintain a healthy metabolism.
02. Mesothelioma Diet
What Is the Best Diet for Mesothelioma Patients?
The best mesothelioma diet will differ based on the patient’s individual needs. It’s also likely to differ based on where they are in their treatment journey. For example, a patient’s diet when trying to put on weight during chemotherapy is likely much different than a mesothelioma survivor’s diet.
A health professional can help mesothelioma patients determine what’s best for them before, during and after their treatment.
A dietician may suggest a nutrient-dense diet for mesothelioma patients with:
- Plenty of fruits and vegetables
- More whole grains and fiber
- More Omega-3 fatty acids and less saturated fats
- Less red and processed meats
- Little to no alcohol consumption
A nutrient-dense diet can help provide energy, promote cancer-fighting activity and help patients maintain a healthy weight.
If patients are in better overall health, they are typically more likely to be eligible to undergo aggressive treatments. This is often the case for surgery, as well as for multimodal therapy that combines surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation.
A nutritionist may also make other recommendations to aid a patient’s recovery or ease treatment side effects. Other tips for maintaining a healthy diet for cancer treatment include:
- Eating 4 – 6 small meals instead of 2 – 3 large meals
- Striving for foods of different colors and textures
- Seeking out foods that smell good and spark your appetite
- Focusing on adequate protein and caloric intake
Patients should always discuss their dietary plans with their doctor. Every patient will have their own unique needs throughout their cancer journey. Mesothelioma doctors will often refer patients to a dietitian or certified nutritionist for specialized care.
03. Foods That May Help
Foods That May Help Mesothelioma Treatment and Recovery
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fiber and other foods can help mesothelioma patients during treatment and recovery.
Certain foods can help reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune system. Health specialists may refer to these as “cancer-fighting foods.” Nutrient-rich diets can also provide energy and may be referred to as “energy foods” for cancer patients.
Cancer dietary plans can also help combat bothersome treatment side effects. A mesothelioma diet plan empowers patients to improve their overall quality of life.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are a rich source of various types of nutrients. These include vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, antioxidants and folate. Such nutrients may provide anti-tumorigenic effects. In other words, they may help prevent the formation of tumors.
Fruits & Vegetables for a Mesothelioma Diet
- Leafy greens
- Sweet potatoes
- Other non-starchy vegetables
- Other fresh fruits
When dietitians recommend colorful foods, they are often referring to fruits and vegetables. Some foods should be eaten in moderation. For example, some fruits contain high amounts of sugar and need to be balanced with other foods.
Whole Grains and Fiber
Whole grains and fiber can help mesothelioma patients maintain a healthy metabolism before, during and after treatment. They can also help ease discomfort associated with common mesothelioma symptoms.
A diet with whole grains and fibers can target issues such as diarrhea and constipation. dietitians may recommend patients focus on soluble fibers. This includes oats, bran and barley.
Some research indicates whole grains and fibers can also reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.
Protein and Calories
A lack of protein and calories is often a concern for cancer patients. Patients may not be getting adequate protein and calories at mealtime for several reasons. It can be due to loss of appetite, trouble swallowing or other eating-related side effects.
Meal Planning for Mesothelioma Patients
Meal planning is a way for mesothelioma patients to easily figure out what they should eat and how much. It is also a way for caregivers to ensure their loved ones are maintaining a healthy, balanced diet.
Physicians often recommend high-protein, high-caloric foods during treatment. This is the case if patients are at risk of malnutrition. Doctors may suggest simple ways to add protein to their diet, including:
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Peanut butter
- Protein powder
- Cottage cheese
- Ricotta cheese
- Wheat germ
Some high-calorie foods may seem unhealthy. However, they are usually meant to help patients regain weight. They are also typically part of a short-term plan, not a permanent component of a diet plan. This can help patients achieve a healthy weight and combat poor appetite.
There are many dietary supplements available to help cancer patients reach their nutritional needs. For example, mesothelioma patients may look to other vitamins, minerals and herbs to fill in gaps in their nutrition plan.
If patients have an allergy, there are powders, pills, specialty drinks and more for access to proper nutrients. Examples of dietary supplements for cancer patients with allergies include:
- Protein powder
- Protein drinks
- Supplemental shakes
- Snack bars
Many of these examples have lactose-free, gluten-free, kosher, low-calorie and unflavored options. This helps patients meet their health needs and preferences.
Nutritionists and dietitians may recommend mesothelioma patients incorporate healthy fats in their diet. Unsaturated fats are considered “good” fats by the American Cancer Society. There are two main types of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Foods that commonly fall under this category include:
- Soy products
- Olive oil
- Peanut oil
- Canola oil
- Other vegetables
- Other seafood
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats (a type of unsaturated fat). They may be a component in a mesothelioma patient’s diet plan. Omega-3 fatty acids have demonstrated anticancer behavior. Researchers have found they help with inflammation, cell development, epigenetic abnormalities and other factors involved with the development and growth of cancer.
Resources for Mesothelioma Patients
04. Foods to Avoid
What Foods Should Mesothelioma Patients Avoid?
Researchers have found there are some types of food mesothelioma patients may consider avoiding during and after treatment. Some foods can impact the body’s ability to prevent and fight cancer. They may also increase the risk of developing cancer.
Patients should discuss concerns about their eating habits with a certified health professional. These experts have the education and training to provide individualized care.
Red Meat and Processed Meats
Studies show red and processed meats can promote inflammation. This then promotes cell division and genome instability. Both of these are reactions in the body that promote cancer.
Studies demonstrate a link between red and processed meats and increased risk for lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, colon cancer and stomach cancer. Limiting red and processed meats from a patient’s diet may support the body to fight cancer and prevent spreading.
Researchers have concluded saturated fats can lead to obesity, heart disease and other conditions. This is of particular concern for mesothelioma patients. Cancer patients are often advised to maintain a healthy weight for a strong immune system and strength during treatment.
Obesity may also affect treatment eligibility. For example, patients in poor health may not be able to undergo aggressive multimodal treatments of surgery and chemotherapy.
The American Cancer Society notes that our bodies need fat. However, there are good and bad fats, and bad fats should be consumed in smaller quantities.
- Considered “bad” fats
- Often incorporated into store-bought baked goods
- Examples: Fat in meat, butter, cheese, whole milk, other animal products, coconut oil and palm oil
- Considered the “worst” type of dietary fats
- Sometimes found in small quantities in meat
- Examples: Margarine, baked goods, fried foods and other man-made goods turned from liquid oils into solids
Dairy products often fall under the category of saturated fats. Dietitians may advise patients to limit their dairy intake. However, there are benefits to dairy in moderation. Milk, cheese and other products can provide protein, calcium, Vitamin D and other vitamins and minerals.
Oncologists may advise cancer patients to limit or avoid alcohol use.
The human body breaks down alcohol into acetaldehyde. This is a chemical that damages your DNA and prevents your body from repairing DNA damage. As a result, cells can grow out of control and develop into a malignant tumor.
Alcohol may also pose additional health risks when used with certain medications. For example, patients should not consume alcohol when using pain medication. Mesothelioma patients should speak with their doctor about any questions about alcohol.
05. Food Safety
Food Safety for Mesothelioma Patients
Mesothelioma patients undergoing cancer treatment must be cautious when handling and consuming certain foods. Mesothelioma cancer and its treatment can weaken the body’s immune system. This makes it difficult for patients to fight off infection.
Physicians will often advise cancer patients to avoid infection-causing germs from foods. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides several food safety recommendations for cancer patients. Some tips for cancer patients to safely handle food include:
- Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water before eating or handling food
- Keep hot foods hot (above 140° F) and cold foods cold (below 40° F)
- Rinse/wash fruits, vegetables and packaged produce
- Throw away fruits and vegetables that are slimy or moldy
- Throw away foods that look or smell off and avoid tasting them
- Cook meats to the appropriate temperature to avoid eating raw or undercooked meat
- Avoid cross-contamination between foods that need to be cooked and ready-to-eat foods
- Pay close attention to the sell-by and use-by dates on food packaging
By practicing food safety, mesothelioma patients can help prevent other infections and diseases. This keeps the patient’s white blood cells at healthy levels, which is important during cancer treatment.
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06. Other Health Considerations
Other Health Considerations for Mesothelioma Patients
Hydration, physical activity, avoiding tobacco and other lifestyle changes can also support mesothelioma cancer patients. These changes can prevent additional problems, support the body’s fight against cancer and offer comfort from associated symptoms.
Patients should discuss any health plans with their physician. It’s important to make sure no diet or lifestyle changes could pose a danger to the patient or their treatment.
Hydration and Cancer
Hydration is important for everyone, especially mesothelioma patients. Hydration helps flush toxins out of the body. Hydration can also aid with many side effects, including:
There are several options for patients to get the fluids they need, including from:
- Soups: Bouillon and broth
- Drinks: Water, seltzer, fruit and vegetable juices, sports drinks, tea, milk, nutritional supplement drinks
- Sweets: Gelatin, ice pops, ice cream, frozen yogurt, Italian ice, sorbets, milkshakes
Some fluids dehydrate, particularly those with caffeine. Cancer patients should exercise care when drinking energy drinks, sodas, tea and coffee.
Physical Activity and Mesothelioma Cancer
Physical activity can help mesothelioma cancer patients:
- Maintain physical abilities and range of motion
- Improve balance and lower risks associated with falls and other accidents
- Keep muscles strong and functioning properly
- Lower the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and other conditions associated with lack of movement
- Improve blood flow and reduce the risk of blood clots
- Boost self-confidence, self-esteem and independence
- Reduce issues with anxiety and depression
- Combat fatigue and nausea
- Manage a healthy weight
- Improve overall strength and quality of life
Body Fat and Cancer Risk
Mesothelioma patients may benefit from maintaining a healthy weight. An appropriate amount of body fat and muscle can help combat fatigue, weakness and other related symptoms. Some researchers have looked at the relationship between body fat, weight and cancer prognosis.
Certified health professionals can help patients analyze their body fat and associated risks. They can also help determine ways for patients to be as healthy as possible during and after treatment.
Smoking and Mesothelioma Risk
Smoking is a known risk factor for mesothelioma. There are two major ways smoking tobacco can cause cancer.
- The poisons in smoke can weaken the immune system. It is then harder to kill cancer cells and easier for cancer to spread.
- The poisons in smoke can damage or change cell DNA. This affects normal cell growth and function. Cells can then grow out of control and create tumors.
Patients should avoid smoking to help combat cancer, and prevent growth and recurrence.
07. Nutrition & Diet Resources
Diet and Nutrition Resources for Mesothelioma Patients
Patients have a variety of resources available to find a nutrition plan that works for them. There are websites, guides and apps available to help with nutrition tracking.
Side Effects of Diet Changes
Patients should discuss diet side effects with their physician. Changes to a patient’s diet may impact their metabolism, headaches, weight loss and other changes.
Patients should also seek help from certified health professionals. Examples include dietitians, nutrition specialists and health coaches. These experts can help patients find a mesothelioma diet plan catered to them.
Many of these resources are available at mesothelioma treatment centers. This allows patients to work with a multidisciplinary team. In other words, various members of their care team will work together to create a comprehensive treatment plan.