Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that can attack the membranes in one’s lungs, heart, or other internal organs. It is caused by exposure to a toxic substance known as asbestos. Microscopic asbestos fibers invade an individual’s internal membranes leading to the development of the cancer. There are multiple factors that doctors take into consideration before determining a treatment plan for patients diagnosed with mesothelioma.
The type of mesothelioma, the patient’s health, and the stage of the cancer are vital components when deciding on and when developing a treatment plan. Since there is not a cure for mesothelioma, the goal is to improve the prognosis. Treatment options for mesothelioma include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Often times, all three treatments are used to achieve the most favorable results.
Treatment and Side Effects
Chemotherapy attacks cancer cells and slows the growth of the cells. Additionally, it prevents cancer cells from multiplying. Chemotherapy kills both healthy cells as well as cancer cells. Mesothelioma cancer cells are known for being resilient, and as a result, the chemotherapy treatment is aggressive and can lead to an increased risk of side effects. Side effects of chemotherapy can include severe nausea, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Due to the side effects of the various treatments for mesothelioma, patients often struggle with receiving adequate nutrition.
Radiation is used as a non-invasive treatment for mesothelioma. It can be effective in killing cancer cells and reducing pain levels. Radiation may increase a patient’s prognosis when combined with other therapies. Side effects of radiation therapy include: weakness, nausea, sore throats, and skin burns.
Nausea is often a common side effect of chemotherapy for mesothelioma. Due to queasiness, many times, patients resort to skipping meals or not eating meals that contain enough calories and nutrients. A solution is to have five, six, or even seven small meals throughout the day. Eating smaller meals more frequently spaced throughout the day can seem less challenging than trying to adhere to a three meal a day schedule. Also, try and snack every two or three hours on nutrient-dense foods.
Both chemotherapy and radiation can cause changes in appetite. Patients may become more sensitive to smells from certain foods. Patients may also develop a change in the taste of food. For example, a patient may find that a food that was once considered their favorite now has an entirely different taste. This is an opportunity to try foods that, in the past, may not have been a top choice.
Importance of a Healthy Diet and Proper Nutrition
Proper nutrition is another means of treatment for mesothelioma. Adequate nutrition will help keep the body strong while receiving treatments. Nutrition is made up of the vitamins and minerals that the body takes in from good components. A diet rich in nutrients provides the body with the energy it needs to receive the optimal results from treatments. It is key to remember that a healthy diet and proper nutrition are essential to receiving the most benefits from the treatment for mesothelioma.
A healthy diet consists of a variety of foods that provide the nutrients needed. A wholesome diet should include foods that supply the body with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Suitable nutrition will also help the body heal more rapidly, both pre and post-treatment.
Patients are always encouraged to consult with a healthcare provider about any dietary supplement they are considering incorporating in their diet. Dietary supplements have remained the center of controversy for many years. The main concern is that dietary supplements may negatively interfere with a patient’s cancer treatment.
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), “[s]ome research shows that large doses of nutrients from dietary supplements may actually keep cancer cells from being destroyed by interfering with conventional therapy. Other studies show the opposite. In general, the protective nutrients and compounds in whole foods are far preferable to those in large dose supplements.” Overall, many health care professionals agree that dietary supplements should not be used as a replacement for a nutrient-rich diet.
Maintaining Body Weight
Maintaining body weight is important during treatment. Nausea and vomiting, along with less caloric intake, can cause weight loss. After receiving radiation treatment, some patients may experience changes in their sense of taste. Patients may also experience mouth sores and a sore throat that can make swallowing painful and difficult.
Patients may experience sensitivity to smells from certain foods. Choose foods that have a higher calorie content and are still loaded with essential nutrients and healthy fats. Throw low-fat and low- calorie food choices out the window. Eat your favorite foods anytime you crave them; it doesn’t matter what time of day. It is essential to eat when you feel like eating. Take advantage of the times that you are hungry.
When planning meals, remember to include foods that are high in protein. Protein aids in repairing body tissue, helps to ensure regrowth and supports a healthy immune system. Supplementing additional protein in the diet is essential due to the need to heal tissue that can be damaged from treatment. Protein sources include chicken, beef, pork, and fish. Protein is also found in dairy products like milk and cheese. Eggs are also a beneficial source of protein.
Protein from animal sources can sometimes cause inflammation. When possible, consume plant-based proteins and protein from anti-inflammatory foods. Good protein choices include spinach, salmon, olive oil, and nuts. Nuts also contain mega-3 fats, which promote healthy cells. Yogurt is also a terrific protein choice. Yogurt contains probiotics that aid in digestion.
Adding carbohydrates to your diet is an excellent source of energy. Fatigue often accompanies many types of treatments for mesothelioma. Consuming carbohydrates can quickly ramp up energy levels and provide a quick energy boost. Pasta, bread, and potatoes are superb sources of carbohydrates. Replace salads and green vegetables with starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes.
Sometimes the idea of consuming actual food can seem impossible with the nauseating side effects that are paired with certain treatment options. It is better to consume something rather than nothing at all. There are ways to consume an appropriate amount of calories that can be found in the form of liquid. Other ways to increase your caloric intake include fruit juices, nectars, and hot chocolate, all that should aim to be higher in calories.
Subtle Ways to Add More Calories to Your Diet
There are many creative ways to ensure you consume more calories. It may seem contradictory to eat more calories and still be healthy. However, when your body is in during treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation, it is vital that you are getting enough calories in addition to eating healthy foods.
Remember, always eating “fat free” or “low fat” is not always the best option. Patients should avoid any food that says it is reduced in fat or fat-free. For example, skip the skim milk and use whole milk instead. Other calorie food hacks include:
- Snacking on dried seeds or nuts. Dried fruit or seeds can be added to cereal, ice cream, yogurt or salad
- Fruit smoothies
- Slapping butter or margarine, on rice, potatoes, and pasta. Butter and oils can also be added on cooked vegetables or toast
- Incorporating a dash of cream cheese as a spread on vegetables or bagels
- Adding peanut butter, jelly, or honey on bread or crackers
- Including guacamole on chips and tossing slices of avocado on your salad
- Utilizing high-calorie dressings on salads and vegetables (don’t forget the croutons).
- Mixing heavy cream or half and half to a hearty batch of mashed potatoes or in pancake batter, soups, gravies, or casseroles.
There are other high-calorie staples that you can incorporate in your regular diet. Do not be afraid to top off your hot chocolate, French toast, or waffles with a dollop of whipped cream. Granola can be mixed in with yogurt or on top of ice cream. Get creative when spicing up your new diet.
Many patients find it convenient to prepare nutrient-rich meals in advance. This can take the stress out of planning meals. On the days when energy levels are high, use this to your advantage. Prepare meals and freeze them in serving portions that are easy to reheat. You may want to reach out to a family member or friend to help with preparing meals ahead of time. Friends and family members can also help to remind you to eat throughout the day and consume adequate nutrients.
How to Stimulate Your Appetite
Light exercise is a productive and efficient way to stimulate the appetite. Exercise improves circulation and helps keep the body active. Exercise also builds muscle mass and enhances mood. Muscle mass is important in helping to maintain weight, which is beneficial to mesothelioma patients both pre and post-treatment. Choose a gentle form of exercise, like stretching or walking. Always check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
The Next Steps
If you are a patient battling with mesothelioma, it is a good idea to explore your current eating habits and ways you can improve your diet during your treatment. Before making any significant changes to your diet, you should consult with your healthcare provider before making any adjustments. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) ’s nutritional guide serves as a great resource in finding proactive nutritional tips and recipes for cancer patients.