Written By: Devin Golden

Mesothelioma Diet and Nutrition Tips

Food cannot cure cancer, nor can it prevent the disease from forming. However, practicing healthy diet habits is recommended for anyone with mesothelioma. If you have this rare cancer, these nutrition tips could help you before, during and after treatment.

Karen Ritter, RN BSN

Medically Reviewed By

Karen Ritter, RN BSN

Registered Nurse


jump to icon


Important Facts About Mesothelioma Diet and Nutrition

  • Nutrition and diet are linked to preventing infections, speeding recovery, increasing energy and improving mental health.
  • Nutrition and proper dietary practices can strengthen your body for treatment, including surgery and chemotherapy.
  • Eat five, six or seven small meals a day rather than two or three large meals.
  • High-protein, potassium-rich and calorie-filled foods are important for mesothelioma patients.

Mesothelioma Diet: Why Patients Should Focus on Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight is important for mesothelioma patients. This is especially valid before surgery or during a chemotherapy regimen.

Dr. David Rice, the director of the mesothelioma program at MD Anderson Cancer Center, spoke with the website Everyday Health about mesothelioma nutrition strategies. He sometimes has patients with low body weight, which could be a hazard since cancer treatments can cause weight loss.

Dr. Rice suggests working with a nutritionist for healthy calorie intake. Maintaining a proper weight can:

  • Protect your body against infections
  • Speed up your surgery recovery
  • Increase your energy
  • Boost your mental health
  • Prevent chemotherapy side effects

What Mesothelioma Patients Should Eat and Drink

Nutrition is a major talking point for people with cancer, and there are numerous questions regarding mesothelioma diet. Inquiries such as “What food should mesothelioma patients eat?” can dominate their thoughts. “What should mesothelioma patients drink?” is another likely question.

The answers depend largely on each patient’s treatment plan. There are a few general tips for building a mesothelioma diet.

What to Eat and Drink Before Mesothelioma Surgery

Mesothelioma surgery is an effective treatment option. However, it can put the body through strain.

No matter the specific surgery, the patient’s body requires time to heal. This is why an effective mesothelioma diet is essential. Eating healthy foods supplements your immune system’s powers and helps you heal quicker.

The website LiveStrong recommends eating protein-rich foods like chicken, turkey, eggs, cottage cheese and fish. For vegetarians, the mesothelioma diet should focus on soy milk, tofu, almonds, walnuts and peanut butter.

According to the National Cancer Institute, surgery can slow the body’s digestive process. Patients may also struggle to retain their normal eating habits. Patients often lose fluid during their operation, which means they may drop in weight, strength and nutrients.

The National Cancer Institute suggests patients eat a high-calorie, high-protein mesothelioma diet before their operation. To regain weight and strength, patients should plan easy-to-make meals prior to surgery and store them in the pantry or freezer.

What to Eat and Drink During Mesothelioma Treatment

Chemotherapy is FDA-approved for mesothelioma. The therapy attacks cancerous cells but also targets healthy cells, dropping the cell count and weakening the patient.

Many mesothelioma patients experience extreme fatigue, nausea, weak muscles and memory loss (a condition called “chemo brain”) due to chemotherapy. A nutrient-rich mesothelioma diet can offset some side effects.

Food can help with muscle growth and preserving the body’s strength. The most important food type for a mesothelioma patient is plants or other organic foods. Recommended foods to consume in a mesothelioma diet include:

  • Carrots
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruit
  • Corn
  • Kiwi

Potassium-rich foods also promote healthy muscles and nerves. Fruits like bananas, cantaloupes, mangos, orange juice, plantains and raisins are filled with potassium. Vegetables to prioritize in a mesothelioma diet include:

  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Cabbage
  • Mushrooms
  • Okra
  • Spinach

Patients should eat foods that promote mental health to combat chemo brain. Fish, nuts, avocado, omega-3 fats, fruits and vegetables are helpful for this.

Dr. Julie Lanford is the wellness director of Cancer Services, Inc. in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She listed a few mesothelioma diet tips to follow in an article on Conquer Magazine’s website:

  • Eat five, six or even seven small meals a day rather than three large meals. Smaller meals help you avoid getting tired or sick from a larger intake of nutrients at once.
  • 2
  • Plan your mesothelioma diet to eat within an hour of waking up and snack every 2-3 hours.
  • 3
  • Make sure there are high-calorie, high-protein snacks available at all times. They will fill one of your meals when you’re too exhausted to cook.
  • 4
  • Ask for help from a loved one to prepare snacks and meals.
  • 5
  • Use nutrition drinks to consume nutrients.
  • 6
  • Lightly exercise, if approved by a doctor, to increase your appetite and quicken your digestive system.

Calories and Protein for Mesothelioma Patients

If you’re a mesothelioma patient, or a mesothelioma caregiver, then repeat these two words over and over again: calories and protein. Those are two of the most important factors when constructing a mesothelioma diet.

How to Add More Protein to Your Mesothelioma Diet

Your body needs protein to remain healthy and heal. While most people link protein to eating meat, there are other sources:

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Tofu
  • Chickpeas
  • Specific types of nuts and seeds
  • Beans

Ways to add more protein to your or your loved one’s mesothelioma diet include:

  • Eating bread with hummus
  • Snacking on roasted nuts or apple slices with cheese wedges
  • Eating cheese or nut-based butters with crackers
  • Adding high-protein foods to salads, soups, casseroles or omelets
  • Consuming desserts made with eggs, such as puddings and custards
  • Supplementing cereals and yogurts with seeds and nuts

How to Add More Calories to Your Mesothelioma Diet

Mesothelioma patients often feel nauseous and do not want to consume their normal calorie intake. They may skip or not finish a meal because they feel ill.

Focusing on high-calorie foods and meals is essential to maintaining strength. Here are some suggestions to maintain a healthy calorie amount:

  • Add butter, oils or margarine to potatoes, rice, pasta, cooked vegetables and toast.
  • 2
  • Snack on chips and guacamole, and add avocado to your salad or other dishes.
  • 3
  • Use high-calorie dressings on salads, baked potatoes and cooked vegetables.
  • 4
  • Use cream sauces on vegetables and pasta dishes.
  • 5
  • Add bread stuffing as a side dish and croutons to your salads.
  • 6
  • Eat cream cheese with toast, bagels and other breads.

Responding to Taste Changes Due to Chemotherapy

Changing taste buds is a common chemotherapy side effect. You may find food tastes bitter, overly sweet or just different than before. Additionally, food may smell less desirable.

There are safeguards against these changes:

  • You can change the texture of your food to trick your mind into sensing flavor.
  • 2
  • You can add spices or sauces to supplement the meals.
  • 3
  • You can try sour or tart foods to kickstart your taste buds.

If the food tastes very sweet, you can add salt to it. If food tastes too bitter, you can sweeten it with sauces or juices.

Eating and Drinking Safely During Treatment

When undergoing chemotherapy, your body is vulnerable to infections. The drop in healthy blood cells leaves your body exposed, and one way to contract a life-threatening disease is by eating unsafe foods.

The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center advises mesothelioma patients to practice four simple steps to avoid food-born illnesses:

  • Wash your hands and surfaces regularly to keep food and drinks clean of germs.
  • 2
  • Keep raw foods and other foods separate at all times.
  • 3
  • Cook all foods to proper internal temperatures, as listed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, before consuming (fish and beef to 145 degrees, egg dishes and ground beef to 160 degrees, chicken, turkey, ground poultry and casseroles to 165 degrees).
  • 4
  • Refrigerate perishable foods immediately.

What to Eat and Drink After Mesothelioma Treatment Ends

Healthy nutrition is vital for people who have concluded their treatment and aim to prevent recurrence of this cancer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) called diet habits one of “six ways to stay healthy after cancer treatment.” In addition to obvious tips like avoiding extreme sun exposure, not smoking, drinking a lot of water, and staying active, the CDC suggests eating more fruits and vegetables.

“Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. … Snack on fruit instead of sugar-sweetened treats,” the organization advises.

Examples of Foods to Eat After Mesothelioma Treatment

Foods with little fat and a lot of vitamins, fiber and minerals are essential after treatment. Whole-grain breads and cereals will help regain your strength and rebuild your tissue. Others are:

  • Beans
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Corn
  • Green peas
  • Okra
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Salad greens like lettuce and spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Winter squash
  • Yams

How Exercise Helps Fight Mesothelioma

Exercise, along with diet and nutrition, benefits cancer patients in many ways. The body strengthens prior to treatment and recovers quicker after surgery or chemotherapy. Mental health and quality of life also improves with regular physical activity.

Is there a deeper biological effect from exercise? Is exercise one of the ways to make the immune system stronger?

Scientists in Denmark have started a clinical trial to test if high-intensity aerobic exercise and training can mobilize immune cells. Can the immune system react quicker and more effectively to cancer treatment if the patient is working up a sweat? If the answer is yes – that exercise turns on some switch for the immune system – then it’s another reason to exercise before treatment starts, during treatment and even after treatment ends.

The study is specifically for non-small-cell lung cancer, which is the most common type of lung cancer. However, the results may translate to other types of cancer, including the rare cancer mesothelioma.

High-Intensity Aerobic Exercise Routine

Researchers in Denmark expect regular exercise to cause “an adrenalin-mediated increased influx of T and NK cells into the tumor, altering the tumor microenvironment and leading to reduced tumor growth.”

The study has up to 70 spots for non-small-cell lung cancer patients. Half receive an exercise regimen of supervised and group exercise activities. These patients participate in physical training three times a week for six weeks, for around 40 minutes per session. The other half in the trial do not partake in the exercises.

The exercise regimen is:

  • 15 minutes of warm-up
  • 17 minutes of interval training
  • 2 minutes of cool down

The exercises included bicycling, rowing, cross training, step up and step down training, and more. They were done on machines or equipment.
The study began in August 2020 but paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which stopped many clinical trials for cancers like mesothelioma and lung cancer. It restarted and now has enrolled 23 patients as of January 2022. All patients receive immunotherapy checkpoint inhibitor treatment, possibly combined with chemotherapy. The primary measurements to determine if exercise impacts the immune system are:

  • Number of circulating NK cells in or near the tumor microenvironment
  • Number of other immune cells in or near the tumor location
  • Infiltration of immune cells into the tumor

The theory is T cells and NK cells become more mobile with upticks in adrenaline. Since exercise causes adrenaline, the belief is exercise can make T cells and NK cells more active.

Mesothelioma Nutrition Advice From an Expert

Nutrition is just one aspect of staying healthy before, during and after mesothelioma treatment. These suggestions should help patients prepare for surgery, manage chemotherapy, and form a healthy lifestyle. All could contribute to a longer life expectancy than the average for mesothelioma.

The goals for all mesothelioma patients are to live past their prognosis and uphold their quality of life. A healthy mesothelioma diet is one of many ways you and others can achieve these goals.

We at Mesothelioma Guide have detailed how these survivors have lived long past the average life expectancy. Contact our medical team and request our free Survivors Guide book to learn how they beat mesothelioma.

Frequently Asked Questions About Nutrition and Diet for Mesothelioma

blue box icon

What food is best for mesothelioma cancer patients?

Foods and drinks with high amounts of protein are recommended for fighting mesothelioma. High-protein foods provide the nutrients needed to strengthen the body. Another suggestion is high-calorie foods, as they supplement the body quickly. Examples include:

  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Bread with hummus
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Turkey
  • Fish
  • Roasted nuts or apple slices
blue box icon

How often should mesothelioma patients exercise?

Mesothelioma patients should exercise as much as they’re comfortable. Exercise, even as light as walking, can strengthen the muscles and increase endurance, which helps during treatment. You should halt your exercise routine in the days before and after surgery.

blue box icon

What nutrition tips help for surgery and chemotherapy?

Prepare meals well in advance. Having ready-made meals will help during days when you’re feeling fatigued or ill from mesothelioma chemotherapy. Cooking takes time and energy, which is why planning ahead is important. Prior to surgery, you should focus on foods and drinks that will increase your muscle mass and strength. High-protein food is important.

Sources & Author

  1. Eating Well During and After Your Cancer Treatment. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Retrieved from: https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/patient-education/eating-well-during-and-after-your-treatment. Accessed: 08/06/19.
  2. Staying Healthy After Cancer Treatment. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer-survivors/life-after-cancer/staying-healthy-after-cancer-treatment.html. Accessed: 08/06/19.
  3. What Should People With Cancer Eat? Conquer Magazine. Retrieved from: https://conquer-magazine.com/issues/2019/vol-5-no-2-april-2019/948-what-should-people-with-cancer-eat. Accessed: 08/06/19.
  4. What Foods to Eat Before Surgery to Help Recovery. LiveStrong. Retrieved from: https://www.livestrong.com/article/476639-what-foods-to-eat-before-surgery-to-help-recovery/. Accessed: 08/08/19.
  5. Eating Hints: Before, during, and after Cancer Treatment. National Cancer Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/eatinghints.pdf. Accessed: 08/08/19.
  6. High Intensity Aerobic exercise training and Immune cell Mobilization in patients with lung cancer (HI AIM)—a randomized controlled trial. BMC Cancer. Retrieved from: https://bmccancer.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12885-022-09349-y. Accessed: 04/21/2022.
Devin Golden

About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is a content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.