01. What to Eat
What Should I Eat if I Have Mesothelioma Cancer?
A mesothelioma patient’s nutritionist or dietitian will help determine the best foods for their individual nutritional needs. For instance, dietitians may recommend chicken, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables and other nutrient-dense options. These foods can help the body repair itself during treatment and support the immune system. Nutrition support may also help patients with treatment side effects and quality of life.
A patient can rely on a healthcare professional to help develop a custom nutrition plan for mesothelioma based on the individual’s needs. A dietitian will consider the patient’s specific type of mesothelioma, treatment plan and any side effects they are experiencing. For instance, patients may experience treatment side effects such as dry mouth, fatigue, constipation and diarrhea. The dietitian can suggest foods that help the patient maintain nutrition despite these side effects.
Although these foods won’t get rid of a tumor or cure the mesothelioma, they may help the patient mitigate weight loss. Maintaining body weight throughout treatment helps a patient heal and sustain energy levels.
The cancer care team may recommend physical activity and good nutrition from foods that are protein-rich and high in calories. A mesothelioma doctor or dietitian may suggest:
- Cooked eggs
- Dairy, such as milk, cheese and cream
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains and fiber
Foods that are dense in nutrients can help patients maintain muscle, promote a healthy metabolism and support the immune system. These can help the patient through mesothelioma treatment.
Cancer-fighting foods will not get rid of a tumor. They are foods that help give important nutrients to the patient. These nutrients provide the patient with the fuel they need during treatment. They can also help patients navigate some common side effects, such as those due to chemotherapy.
02. Best Fruits and Vegetables
Best Fruits and Vegetables for Mesothelioma Cancer Patients
For a mesothelioma patient, healthy eating habits can include fruits and vegetables as part of a balanced diet. Fruits and vegetables can provide needed nutrients that may help slow the formation of tumors. These nutrients include:
- Antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E
Antioxidants can attach to harmful molecules called free radicals. Free radicals damage healthy cells. Free radicals can also trigger processes that create cancer cells over time.
Natural bodily processes can produce and neutralize free radicals. They also form when you encounter cigarette smoke, radiation or asbestos. Free radicals are an unavoidable part of life for everyone. However, antioxidant-rich foods can provide additional resources for minimizing free radical harm.
By eating fruits and vegetables, a mesothelioma patient may experience many nutritional benefits. For instance, dark greens like kale can provide patients with free radical-fighting antioxidants.
- Brussels sprouts
- Sweet potatoes
- Winter squash
When preparing and eating fruits and vegetables, patients may need to be mindful of food safety. Some mesothelioma treatments can weaken a patient’s immune system. Without properly cleaning fruits and vegetables, the patient is at risk of catching food-borne diseases.
The following precautions may help patients maintain food safety:
- Do not use soap or commercial cleaners on produce.
- Wash fruits and vegetables under running water before peeling, cutting or eating.
- Scrub any food that has a tough rind, such as potatoes.
- Throw away any fruits and vegetables that seem to be spoiling or going bad.
A lot of thought has gone into nutrition and cancer. Mesothelioma patients and caregivers can find many different recipes to help add needed nutrients and foods to a cancer diet. From smoothies and milkshakes to soups and entrees, patients can find recipe ideas at these sites:
- American Cancer Society
- American Institute for Cancer Research
- MD Anderson Cancer Center
- Stanford Health
Note: Patients and caregivers should talk to their care team before making dietary changes. Changes to one’s diet could have unexpected negative side effects.
Resources for Mesothelioma Patients
03. Protein & Calories
Eating Protein and Calories During Cancer Treatments
Proteins and calories are important for a mesothelioma patient. In part, this is because cancer patients are at a higher risk of malnutrition. Eating enough protein and calories can help the patient maintain a healthy weight. It can also help them keep their energy up during treatment for mesothelioma.
While each patient will vary depending on their needs, a general rule of thumb is to eat 25 to 35 calories for every two pounds of body weight. So, a 180-pound man would eat between 2,000 and 3,000 calories each day. Patients should talk to their care team about what makes sense for them. A dietitian can recommend the appropriate intake for each individual. For instance, dietitians may recommend increasing calories and proteins for patients dealing with weight loss.
It’s important for the patient and their caregivers to follow the dietary plan closely. The care team selects foods that will not interact with treatment, so the patient gets the most benefit from treatment. Some foods, vitamins and nutrition supplements may interact with treatment. A patient should always talk to the care team about their mesothelioma treatment diet.
Some protein-rich foods that may be part of a mesothelioma cancer dietary plan include:
- Cheese, cream cheese and cottage cheese
- Dried beans and peas
- Lean meat
- Peanut butter and other nut butters
A dietitian will determine how much protein and how many calories a patient should eat each day. Be sure to ask for tips on how to increase protein intake.
Tips for Adding More Protein and Calories to a Patient’s Diet
Dietitians may recommend high-protein and high-calorie diets for mesothelioma patients. Mesothelioma patients can increase protein and calorie intake by:
- Adding butter or margarine to vegetables and breads
- Adding eggs or egg substitute to entrees
- Adding extra meat or beans to casseroles, soups or stews
- Adding gravies to potatoes, meats, rices and noodles
- Eating cheese as a snack or on salads, sandwiches and more
- Eating meat salads, such as chicken, ham, turkey or tuna
- Having peanut butter with apples, bananas, celery, crackers and bagels
- Indulging extra avocado, mayo or dressing to sandwiches, salads or dips
- Mixing one cup of non-fat powdered milk to one quart of whole milk
- Trying store-bought protein supplements
- Using sour cream on potatoes or casseroles or in sauces and baked goods
- Using whole milk in foods or as a drink
04. Grains, Healthy Fats & Supplements
Other Cancer-Fighting Foods for Mesothelioma Patients
A nutritionist will develop a healthy diet filled with nutrient-dense foods for mesothelioma patients. These may include whole grains and fiber, healthy fats, dietary supplements and/or other food groups. Each plays an important role in patients maintaining weight, strength and metabolism.
Whole Grains and Fiber
Dietitians may recommend a diet with plenty of whole grains and fiber for mesothelioma patients. Whole grains and fiber can help the patient maintain a healthy metabolism before, during and after treatment. Some sources of whole grains and fiber may help relieve side effects of treatment, including constipation and diarrhea.
The cancer team will suggest many options for the patient to consider. It’s important for the patient to follow any diet recommendations provided as part of a treatment plan. Some of the whole grains nutritionists may recommend include:
- Brown rice
- Rolled oats
- Whole oats
- Whole wheat
- Wild rice
Research shows whole grains can lower people’s risk for some types of cancers. Whole grains provide more cancer-fighting nutrients than refined grains. Plus, whole grains are high in fiber, which helps maintain healthy body weight.
Dietitians may also recommend healthy fats or unsaturated fats as part of a mesothelioma patient’s diet. Healthy fats are unsaturated fats and can be eaten in moderation. For instance, one healthy fat is omega-3, which studies have shown may reduce inflammation during chemotherapy. Unsaturated fats may also help the patient maintain weight through treatment.
Some sources for unsaturated fats include:
- Canola oil
- Olive oil
- Peanut oil
- Soy products
Foods That Promote Lung Health
A balanced diet may also help individuals keep their lungs healthy or promote lung health. For instance, nutrient-rich foods may help support the blood vessels and circulation in patients with pleural mesothelioma. This form of mesothelioma develops in the lining of the lungs. A dietitian can identify what foods might help.
Some studies show that a high intake of fruits and vegetables has a positive impact on cardiovascular health. For example, green, leafy vegetables and beetroot provide dietary nitrates. Dietary nitrates have been tied to decreased blood pressure and stroke risk. The care team may encourage a mesothelioma patient to increase their fruit and vegetable intake.
Examples of Foods That May Benefit Lung Health
- Green tea
- Olive oil
Mesothelioma Cancer-Fighting Vitamins
Vitamins for mesothelioma cancer continue to be the subject of research. While vitamins do not cure cancer, they may help prevent it. For diagnosed patients, they can help provide nutrients needed for treatment. Also, vitamins and supplements can help address any vitamin deficiencies caused by treatment.
Because vitamins can impact cancer treatments unpredictably, it’s best to discuss options with the care team. The care team will understand any potential side effects or interactions with treatment. In some cases, high-dose supplements may do more harm than help. For example, some vitamins, such as vitamins A, C and E, can help prevent cell damage. But, some doctors believe this also means chemotherapy might not work as well.
Some common vitamins and supplements a patient may need to take include:
- Amino acids (phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, isoleucine, methionine, leucine and lysine)
- Vitamins A, C and D
In some cases, a multivitamin can provide enough supplemental minerals. But, some patients may need a higher dose or individual supplements. The care team will evaluate this depending on the patient’s treatment plan.
Dietitians may recommend some patients take dietary supplements to help provide extra nutrients. For example, a dietitian may recommend a protein supplement to help ensure the patient gets enough protein per day.
Remember that dietary supplements are not held to the same strict standards as medications. Patients should not decide to take supplements on their own without consulting the care team. Some supplements can interact with cancer treatments, so it’s best to take them under a doctor’s orders.
06. What to Avoid
What Foods Should I Avoid if I Have Mesothelioma?
The cancer care team will suggest plenty of foods to eat to ensure a healthy diet during treatment. But, as one would expect, there are also foods mesothelioma patients may want to avoid.
Certain foods may make it difficult for the body to fight cancer. Some, such as red meat, may also increase a person’s cancer risk.
Red Meat and Processed Meats
Red and processed meats can cause inflammation, according to studies. Inflammation can damage cells in a way that promotes cancer.
Some studies have linked red and processed meats to an increased risk of specific cancers. These include lung cancer, pancreatic cancer and colon cancer. The cancer care team may recommend limiting red and processed meats to help the body to fight cancer and prevent spreading.
People need some fats to stay healthy. But, it’s important to limit unhealthy fats. For example, trans fats have been tied to heart disease and other conditions. For a mesothelioma patient, avoiding these conditions can be critical.
Also, heart disease may affect which treatments a patient is eligible for. Patients in poor health may not be able to have surgery or chemotherapy. The patient’s health helps determine if they can undergo aggressive multimodal treatments. Research has supported that multimodal treatment plans are typically the most effective in treating mesothelioma.
Some common sources of saturated fats and trans fats include:
- Baked goods
- Coconut oil
- Fried foods
- Palm oil
- Whole milk
The dietitian and cancer care team may restrict or limit certain foods with high amounts of unhealthy fats. Talk to the care team about what foods this may include.
Patients receiving cancer treatment may need to limit or avoid alcohol use. The cancer care team may tell patients to avoid alcohol because of the potential health impacts.
Alcohol breaks down into acetaldehyde in the human body. Acetaldehyde is a chemical that damages DNA. DNA damage can build up over time and lead to a malignant tumor.
Beyond the damage to DNA, alcohol may also pose health risks when used with certain medications. For instance, a cancer patient may be taking pain medications. Many pain medications come with instructions not to use them with alcohol.
Alcohol may also exacerbate side effects from treatments. For instance, if patients are experiencing mouth sores from treatment, consuming alcohol can irritate the sores or make them worse.
Mesothelioma patients should speak with their doctor or nutritionist about consuming alcohol.
A mesothelioma patient’s diet can help them maintain weight and strength through treatment. A dietitian will recommend a combination of high-protein and high-calorie foods. These foods and some dietary supplements may also help with some treatment side effects. Before making dietary changes, patients should consult nutrition resources and speak with their care team.