Mesothelioma patients should eat a healthy diet during chemotherapy to stay healthy and deal with treatment related side effects. Healthy foods can help patients manage energy levels, immune function, and overall health. Proper nutrition gives your body the resources to cope with stress of chemotherapy.

Chemo isn’t limited to a certain area of the body so it is often used to prevent the spread of cancer or treat cancer that has already spread. This also means chemotherapy can cause side effects throughout the body. Nutrition therapy can help protect healthy tissue and increase effectiveness of chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy Side Effects

Most chemotherapy drugs work by interfering with cell division in fast-dividing cells. Cancer cells divide faster than most cells so they are the ones affected. However, epithelial cells that line the mouth, throat, and intestines are also affected.

Chemo side effects change based on the specific drug, the dosage, length of treatment, & individual response. The standard chemotherapy treatment for mesothelioma is a combination of two drugs: Alimta (pemetrexed) and cisplatin (Platinol).

Below are a few common side effects caused by these drugs that may affect your ability to eat:

  • Nausea & Vomiting – Nausea may last up to 1 week after treatment with cisplatin. Doctors account for this by giving patients anti-nausea medication before the infusion, and a prescription for use after.
  • Constipation – Drinking plenty of water and fluids, eating meals at the same time every day, and eating more fiber may help treat this side effect.
  • Poor Appetite – Chemotherapy side effects including: nausea, vomiting, constipation, taste changes, as well as less common side effects like mouth sores, sore throat, and difficulty swallowing can cause patients to eat less.
  • Taste Changes – Cisplatin can cause patients to have a metallic taste can in their mouths. Using plastic utensils instead of metal silverware may be able to help.

7 Eating Tips for Chemotherapy Side Effects

1. Make Small Meals

Helps with: nausea, poor appetite
Try eating 6-8 smaller meals instead of 3 large meals. Side effects like nausea can keep you from finishing a meal. You need to eat enough calories and nutrients to stay healthy but don’t force yourself to eat large quantities of food in one sitting. Create small meals that are high in nutrients, protein, and calories and eat them often. Healthy milkshakes and smoothies can be a good way to pack a lot of protein and nutrients into an easy to consume drink.

2. Try Juicing

Helps with: nausea, poor appetite, trouble swallowing
Juicing can help you get all of the nutrients from fruits and vegetables that you need, without having to eat a large meal. However, chemotherapy may affect your immune system’s ability to fight bacteria. Ask your doctor if juicing is a good idea for you. If your doctor approves, make sure your produce, juicer, all parts, and tabletops are cleaned thoroughly.

3. Manage Sugar Levels

Helps with: immune function, constipation
Don’t stress out trying to cut out sugar completely, but try not to eat a lot of sugar outside of what is contained in your main meals. Stabilizing blood sugar levels is important during chemo. High and low blood sugar levels can put added stress on the immune system. Eating a diet high in fiber and proteins can help keep blood sugar even.

4. Stay Hydrated

Helps with: liver function, constipation, overall health
All people, but especially cancer patients, should drink 8 glasses of fluids per day. You can count any liquids that do not contain alcohol or caffeine. Drinking enough fluids helps your body flush out toxins. If you are having trouble eating much at one time, you may need to keep fluids to a minimum at mealtimes, but drink plenty between meals.

5. Protein, Protein, Protein

Helps with: immune function, treatment recovery
Protein is necessary for the growth and repair of all the cells in your body. Chemotherapy can damage some of your healthy cells and you will need protein to recover. Protein also supports immune function and energy. Choose lean protein options such as hummus, soy, nuts, beans, fish, lean meats, and eggs. Choose organic, free-range, grass-fed, or wild options when possible.

6. Eat Fiber & Whole Grains

Helps with: constipation, immune function
Whole grains contain fiber and other vitamins and minerals needed to support your immune system during chemotherapy. Switching normal pasta to whole wheat and white rice to brown rice are easy ways to add whole grains to your diet. Look for foods with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving and that use the term “100% whole grain” on the label.

7. Exercise

Helps with: poor appetite, overall health
Exercise is an important part of staying healthy and eating well. Physical activity can fuel your appetite if you are eating less because of chemo. Simple activities like walking around the block could help motivate you to eat more. Ask your doctor what kind of physical activity is safe during chemotherapy for mesothelioma.

Maintaining Balanced Nutrition During Chemotherapy

A balanced mesothelioma diet packed with vitamins and nutrients can help you stay healthy during chemotherapy treatment. The Healthy Eating Plate developed by Harvard University is a good guideline for planning your meals.

Healthy eating plate guide image from Harvard University

Your plate should include:

  • 1/2 vegetables and/or fruits
  • 1/4 protein
  • 1/4 whole grains
  • A small amount of healthy fats

It is always better to get nutrients from food than from supplements. If you are eating well enough you won’t need supplements. However, if you are struggling to eat enough nutrients, supplements can be helpful. Make sure your doctor approves of any supplements you take.

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Show Sources & Author

  1. Cisplatin. Chemocare. Retrieved from: http://chemocare.com/chemotherapy/drug-info/cisplatin.aspx. Accessed: 7/12/17.
  2. ALIMTA ®. Chemocare. Retrieved from: http://chemocare.com/chemotherapy/drug-info/alimta.aspx. Accessed: 7/12/17.
  3. How to Eat When Chemo Kills Your Appetite. WebMD. Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/cancer/chemo-nutrition#1. Accessed: 7/12/17.
  4. Juicing During Chemotherapy. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Retrieved from: http://www.dana-farber.org/Health-Library/Juicing-During-Chemotherapy.aspx. Accessed: 7/12/17.
  5. What Should I Eat During Cancer Treatment?. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Retrieved from: http://blog.dana-farber.org/insight/2015/12/what-should-i-eat-during-cancer-treatment/. Accessed: 7/12/17.
  6. Healthy Eating Plate & Healthy Eating Pyramid. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Retrieved from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate/. Accessed: 7/12/17.
  7. Planning Meals and Managing Cancer Side Effects. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Retrieved from: http://www.dana-farber.org/Adult-Care/Treatment-and-Support/Patient-and-Family-Support/Nutrition-Services.aspx?_ga=2.84142489.1203116971.1499867720-1921097944.1499867720#Meal_Planning. Accessed: 7/12/17.
  8. Maureen Keane, M.S., Daniella Chase, M.S. (2007). What to Eat if You Have Cancer. New York, NY. McGraw-Hill.

About the Writer, Jamie Iovino

Jamie Iovino is the senior writer at Mesothelioma Guide. She creates and edits pages to make sure mesothelioma patients and their families receive the newest and most accurate information about mesothelioma.