Nutrition and Cancer Treatment
Maintaining healthy eating patterns when you're sick can be quite difficult, no matter what the disease. The same can be said for the times when you're receiving aggressive treatments for your mesothelioma. mesothelioma treatment, especially chemotherapy, carry a host of side effects and many of these can affect the way you eat or your desire to eat.
Some cancer patients describe the treatments and their side effects as more difficult to tolerate than the disease itself. However, researchers have worked long and hard to try to develop drugs that carry fewer side effects. In addition, more complementary medications are available to alleviate the uncomfortable effects of the treatments. An experienced doctor will know which drugs to recommend so that you're able to eat as normally as possible.
What to Expect
Both chemo and radiation can cause nausea and vomiting, often reported as the most unpleasant and difficult side effects of these aggressive treatments. Doctors will tell you, however, that it's important to try to persevere through these stomach ailments in order to maintain enough energy to fight the disease.
While nausea occurs fairly infrequently with radiation, it does indeed happen quite often during a treatment regimen with chemotherapy. However, some chemo drugs cause less nausea than others. The two chemotherapy drugs most recommended for the treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma - Alimta and Cisplatin - are known to cause a moderate amount of nausea and vomiting. Anti-nausea medications are usually administered before or at the onset of the chemo treatment and can often eliminate or significantly reduce the nausea and vomiting caused by these and other chemotherapy drugs.
Everyone reacts differently to drugs. People who have a tendency towards nausea (such as though who suffer from seasickness) tend to be more easily sickened by chemo treatments. If you are prone to nausea, tell your doctor before treatments commence. Some patients report that they experience absolutely no nausea and can, therefore, carry on with their eating regimen more easily.
Maintaining Good Nutrition during Treatment
Even if you are afflicted with nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, or any of the other unpleasant side effects of cancer treatment, it is still important to eat well. It is understandable, however, that on some days eating will be the furthest thing from your mind.
Remember, if you don't eat, you can't help your body fight the disease. Oncologists offer the following suggestions for maintaining your appetite:
- DO NOT eat when you're feeling nauseous. Chances are that you will not be able to keep down the food. That experience will make you less likely to want to try eating again, even if you're feeling better later in the day.
- On days when you do feel better, take advantage of that fact and try to consume foods that are high in the vitamins you need to keep your body strong, including plenty of protein.
- Avoid foods that are naturally hard to digest, such as high-fat items, sweets, or fried foods.
- Eat several small meals each day rather than three large ones. Small meals of your choice can be taken several times a day at times when you're feeling your best.
- If you generally experience nausea DURING the treatment, do not eat right before you head to the hospital or outpatient facility for your chemo.
- If you don't get nauseous during treatment, try eating a few hours before. Just like many other drugs, chemo administered on an empty stomach is more likely to cause stomach problems.
- Always eat and drink slowly. Small bites and sips will lessen the chance of developing nausea.
- Avoid coffee and other caffeinated beverages.
- If you do have stomach problems, remember that it's important to drink to avoid dehydration. Choose clear, non-carbonated, unsweetened beverages, such as apple or grape juice. Flat soft drinks are okay, too.
- Don't fill up on beverages at meals, even though hydration is important. Drinking too much water will cause you to eat less. Instead, quench your thirst throughout the day with small amounts of water or other beverages.
When you first begin your chemotherapy regimen, you won't know how your body will react, therefore, it will take time to adjust your eating habits. You may get sick after the first few treatments, but be fine after that. Some people are only sick for a few hours after treatment and have no ill effects until the next treatment. Others are sick for several days. It may take some patience to figure out the best eating habits for you during your chemo.
Plan Ahead or Ask for Help
Not every day during chemo treatments will be a "bad" day. There will be plenty of days when you may be feeling good enough to be up and around. If you cook, take advantage of these days and plan ahead. Make meals that can be frozen and re-heated at a later time - on those days when you might not feel so well - or shop for foods that are easy to prepare.
Nutrition is important! If you can't maintain proper nutrition on your own, ask for help. Friends and family members may be willing to help you by offering meals you can freeze and re-heat. You may also qualify for a local Meals-on-Wheels-type program or a federally-funded program that provides already-prepared meals for free or at a minimal cost.
- National Cancer Institute. Overview of Nutrition in Cancer Care. http://www.cancer.gov/cancerinfo/pdq/supportivecare/nutrition
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.cancer.org/docroot/MBC/MBC_6.asp
- American Cancer Society: Nutrition for the Person with Cancer http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_4X_Radiation_Therapy_29.asp?rnav=cri
Last modified: December 24, 2010.