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Patient Support // March 23, 2016 MAAC Staff

Tips for Minimizing Chemotherapy Side Effects With Your Diet

One of the most common treatment therapies for cancer patients is chemotherapy. For mesothelioma patients, chemotherapy is also the most widely used treatment option.  Chemotherapy has a profound effect on killing and minimizing cancer cells, and it can also have a similar effect on normal, healthy cells. For this reason, some negative side effects can occur during treatment with chemotherapy. Today, the practice of treating cancer with chemotherapy has advanced and has led to combination therapies that utilizes multiple drugs, which has increased the efficacy of the modality and minimized some undesired side effects.

Sometimes patients anticipate negative side effects and worry before starting treatment. These emotions are normal and your healthcare team should be able to tell you what to expect from the specific drugs you take. Common chemotherapy side effects that can occur include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • fatigue
  • hair loss
  • appetite changes
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • mouth, tongue, and throat problems such as sores and pain with swallowing
  • weight changes

It is important to communicate your side effects with your healthcare team, as there may be remedies that can be prescribed or recommended based on the types of chemotherapy drugs you’re taking. Another step to take is to identify potential nutritional therapeutic practices that can alleviate some the symptoms typically experienced. Using nutrition to manage side effects may not alleviate all of your symptoms, but it can help minimize some side effects while helping you feel stronger and more positive through your treatment process.

Eat Smaller Meals

The most common side effects of chemotherapy are nausea and loss of appetite which can lead to muscle loss and fatigue. To help minimize nausea and increase a patient’s appetite, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute recommends eating several smaller, easier to digest meals. When eating, choose bland and soft foods to make digestion easier. Keep fluids to a minimum during mealtimes to encourage greater food intake, but don’t forget to keep sipping on fluids in between meal times to aid with digestion.

During treatment, you may have a few days where you feel like your appetite has improved or nausea has subsided. Use those times to eat well and eat more if you’re able. Lastly, it’s also recommended to use ginger, lemon, lavender, and peppermint in food and liquids to calm the stomach and prevent nausea.

Eat High-Calorie Food

Muscle loss and fatigue experienced during chemotherapy is often a result of malnutrition. To combat this, make sure the foods you eat are nutrient-dense and include healthy fats. Eating healthy portions of protein and vegetables will help alleviate muscle loss and fatigue. Add calories to your food by using salad dressings and oils on foods, like breads and pastas. Make fresh fruit and vegetable smoothies and add nutritional supplements, like protein powders, to them to increase their calorie count. The smoothies will be easy to eat and digest while also cooling any mouth sores from treatment. Eating nuts and seeds, as snacks or in other foods, is a good way to increase calorie and fat intake and they are easy snacks to take with you to appointments and errands. Nut-based butters are another good, high-fat snack to add to your diet.

Avoid Acidic and Spicy Foods

For cancer patients who are experiencing nausea or sores in their mouth and throat, avoiding acidic and spicy foods is advised to prevent additional irritation. While lemon can be soothing to an upset stomach, if you’re experiencing mouth sores, avoid citrus fruits and citrus fruit juices for snacks and meals. Spicy foods can be upsetting to both mouth sores and an upset stomach, so it’s best to stick to bland, soft foods to avoid irritating your mouth and stomach further. If you’re experiencing mouth sores, it’s also wise to eliminate coarse foods from your diet to avoid scraping your mouth and throat.

Seek Additional Medical Help

Contacting a dietician can aid in the implementation of the nutritional strategies discussed here.  Additionally, discussing how you are feeling with your oncologist is recommended. When receiving treatment, communication is key in making sure doctors are optimizing your treatment and making you feel as comfortable as possible.