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Mesothelioma Diet and Nutrition

Proper nutrition is crucial when you’ve been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma. By balancing minerals, protein, and vitamins in your diet, you can reduce common treatment side effects like mouth sores and malnutrition. Eating fruits and vegetables and avoiding processed foods can also help your overall health. Get mesothelioma diet tips and learn how to create a healthy meal plan below.

Fact-Checked and Updated by: Jenna Tozzi, RN

Last updated:

Why Are Mesothelioma Nutrition and Diet Plans Important?

Diet and nutrition are vital for patients diagnosed with any type of cancer, including mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma diet and nutrition play important roles in:

  • Energy levels: Mesothelioma cancer treatments like chemotherapy and surgery can sap one’s energy. Eating the right foods gives mesothelioma patients the physical and mental strength to carry out activities.
  • Immune system function: Cancer and the treatments used to manage it can greatly weaken the body’s immune system. Proper mesothelioma nutrition can strengthen the immune system to fight cancer and boost your ability to fend off sickness and infection.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight: Mesothelioma and the treatments for it can result in drastic weight loss. Eating healthily can get you to a proper weight, reducing the chances of complications during and after treatment.
  • Managing treatment side effects: Cancer treatments often cause side effects such as fatigue and nausea. Following your mesothelioma diet can minimize these side effects and improve your quality of life while receiving the treatment you need to become a mesothelioma survivor.

What does a mesothelioma survivors diet include? Get tips from a registered nurse in our Free Survivors Guide.

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Nutrition Tips for Mesothelioma Patients

Eating healthily before, during, and after treatment can help you stay stronger and feel better.

Here are 7 top mesothelioma nutrition tips:

  1. If you have mouth sores from chemotherapy, stay away from hot foods and drinks, alcoholic beverages, crunchy foods, and anything acidic. You should also cut food into small pieces and cook foods until they are soft and tender so they are easier to chew.
  2. Eat 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day to give your body essential nutrients.
  3. Chemotherapy can cause taste changes. Try bitter, sour, sweet, and salty flavors to make food more appealing.
  4. Nausea is a common side effect of treatment. You can control your nausea by eating dry foods like breadsticks and crackers and eating easy-to-digest foods rather than heavy meals.
  5. Eat room-temperature foods if cooking smells bother you. “Foods and drinks stored at room temperature can decrease nausea and are better tolerated by the digestive system,” says mesothelioma nurse Amy Fair.
  6. Eating at regular intervals throughout the day can help prevent malnutrition and keep you energized.
  7. If you feel bloated, drink small amounts of liquid. Do not skip snacks and meals — an empty stomach may make your nausea worse. You should also rinse your mouth after and before eating.

Call (866) 608-8933 to request your Free Survivors Guide featuring more mesothelioma nutrition tips from our registered nurse Amy Fair.

Foods to Support Mesothelioma Treatment Recovery

Some foods have nutrients that may promote recovery from mesothelioma treatment. However, others can negatively interact with chemotherapy drugs and other mesothelioma treatments. Your oncologist (cancer care doctor) can advise you on what to eat during recovery and refer you to a nutritionist if needed.

Depending on your overall health and treatment plan, your doctor may suggest incorporating the following foods:

  • Fiber-rich foods like potatoes and vegetables can balance insulin levels and potentially reduce mesothelioma cell growth.
  • Herbs and spices such as mint, rosemary, turmeric, and dill may offer anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting benefits.
  • Medicinal teas like moringa leaf and chamomile are rich in antioxidants, which are substances that can protect the body from free radicals. Free radicals attack healthy cells and change their genes, encouraging cancerous tumors to grow.
  • Natural sources of coenzyme Q, which is a nutrient in trout, beef, herring, chicken, soybeans, sardines, peanuts, and lentils that can protect the heart from chemotherapy damage.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish can reduce inflammation and may also lower the risk of cancer coming back, according to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Working with a comprehensive medical care team — including doctors, oncologists, and nutritionists — can help improve your health outcomes. Find an experienced medical care provider with our Free Doctor Match to get started now.

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Vitamins, Herbs, and Supplements to Aid Mesothelioma Diets

Mesothelioma patients who experience side effects from cancer treatments may be able to find relief through vitamins, herbs, and supplements. Supplements come in many forms, including gummies, pills, bars, powders, and injections.

Common supplements for mesothelioma patients include:

  • Amino acids
  • Beta-carotene
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Protein supplements
  • Selenium
  • Vitamins A, B12, D, and E
  • Zinc

Talk to your mesothelioma doctor before taking dietary supplements. Certain supplements can interfere with cancer drugs, reducing their effectiveness and causing negative side effects.

For instance, high levels of vitamin E and C can interfere with radiation therapy. Similarly, garlic, St. John’s wort, and ginseng supplements may make chemotherapy drugs less effective.

To learn more about proper nutrition for mesothelioma patients, contact our team today.

How to Make a Meal Plan for Mesothelioma

The best way to follow a nutritious diet for mesothelioma is to meal plan. Follow these steps to get started.

1. Replace Low-Calorie Foods

First, replace low-calorie foods like salads and other vegetables with starchy equivalents like sweet potatoes and potatoes. This will give your body more energy to withstand mesothelioma treatments and fight cancer.

You can also increase your caloric intake by adding the following high-calorie foods to your diet:

  • Avocados
  • Chocolate sauce
  • Cream cheese
  • Drinks such as smoothies, milkshakes, and fruit nectars
  • Soft desserts like ice cream and cake topped with whipped cream

2. Increase Protein Portions of Meals

You should also increase the protein portions of meals and lower your whole grain intake.

Protein helps maintain and build muscle, which is important for mesothelioma patients who may be having problems eating and who are losing weight. It’s especially helpful in the period following surgery.

“A high-protein diet has been known to be effective in helping patients recover after surgery.”
— Amy Fair, RN, Patient Advocate

Add the following to your meals to increase your protein intake:

  • Beans
  • Cheese
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Greek yogurt
  • Lean beef
  • Nut butters
  • Nuts
  • Pork
  • Powdered milk
  • Sliced meats
  • Soy foods such as tempeh and tofu
  • Spinach

3. Reduce Whole Grains

Although whole grains such as cereals are considered a healthy food choice, they can be challenging to digest. They can also worsen certain treatment side effects such as bloating and diarrhea.

Reducing whole grains can also give you more room to eat other nutrient-rich foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and lean meat. These foods provide essential minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants required for immune support and overall health.

4. Watch for Signs of Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar)

In some cases, mesothelioma may cause hypoglycemia, a type of low blood sugar that can be controlled through diet and medication.

Hypoglycemia can cause various side effects, such as:

  • Damp nightclothes and sheets due to sweating
  • Drowsiness
  • Irritability, tiredness, and confusion upon waking
  • Loss of coordination
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nightmares
  • Slurred speech

Early signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Headache
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Looking pale
  • Nausea or hunger
  • Numbness or tingling of the tongue, lips, or cheek

Tips to Boost a Mesothelioma Patient’s Appetite

Cancer patients often struggle with their appetite and find the thought of food unappealing. They may also struggle with nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, and swallowing problems.

Here are some tips to help stimulate your appetite:

  1. Create a relaxing and cheerful setting by eating with family or friends.
  2. Drink liquids as snacks or after meals, not during or before meals. Liquid can decrease appetite.
  3. Eat 6-8 small meals a day instead of 3 large meals.
  4. Include a larger-than-average portion of protein, such as eggs, poultry, or peanut butter, at each meal.
  5. Juice vegetables and fresh fruits to obtain nutrients without feeling bloated.
  6. Try different flavors and types of food to stimulate your palate.

If you or a loved one is struggling to eat after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, we can help. Call our team of knowledge Patient Advocates at (866) 608-8933 to get free resources on health and wellness, nutrition, and more.

How Does Treatment Affect Mesothelioma Diet and Nutrition?

Treatment can affect mesothelioma nutrition and diet in various ways. Here’s how mesothelioma chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and other treatment methods can influence your nutritional and dietary choices.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy affects digestion and chewing because it kills cells in the mouth, digestive tract, and hair follicles. If you develop mouth sores from mesothelioma, you can reduce discomfort by eating lukewarm or cool foods.

Chemotherapy may also change how food tastes, decrease appetite, and cause nausea. Changing your diet or how you eat can help you maintain a healthy body weight and get proper nutrients in spite of these changes. For instance, you can use wooden utensils if food tastes metallic.

Get our Free Survivors Guide to learn how an anti-inflammatory diet helped one pleural mesothelioma patient recover from chemotherapy and its related side effects.

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Inspirational stories of patients and their families

Arthur Putt
Arthur Putt

Diagnosis: Pleural mesothelioma
Still Thriving: 5+ year survivor

Julie Gundlach with her daughter and family at a Miles for Meso race
Julie Gundlach

Diagnosis: Peritoneal mesothelioma
Still Thriving: 17+ year survivor

Pleural mesothelioma survivor John Stahl and his wife Dee Stahl
John Stahl

Diagnosis: Stage 4 pleural mesothelioma
Still Thriving: 3+ year survivor

Mary Jane Williams at a Miles for Meso race
Mary Jane Williams

Diagnosis: Peritoneal mesothelioma
Beating the Odds: 15+ year survivor

Peritoneal mesothelioma survivor Alexis Kidd and her husband Christian Kidd
Alexis Kidd

Diagnosis: Peritoneal mesothelioma
Still Thriving: 16+ year survivor

Jill Litton
Jill Litton

Diagnosis: Peritoneal mesothelioma
Still Thriving: 14+ year survivor

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Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy drugs boost the immune system to identify and kill mesothelioma cancer cells more efficiently and effectively. Unfortunately, like chemotherapy drugs, they can also attack normal cells since they remove typical restrictions on immune system cells.

Side effects of immunotherapy drugs can include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Difficult breathing
  • Vision changes
  • Vomiting

If you experience these symptoms, talk to your oncology team. They may be able to prescribe medications to help you feel better and prevent your immune system from attacking healthy cells.

You can also get tips on how to maintain a proper diet while dealing with mesothelioma immunotherapy side effects from your care team.

Radiation

Mesothelioma radiation therapy in the chest area can affect the way you chew, swallow, or digest food. Similarly, radiation around the abdomen may cause digestive issues, such as bloating, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Surgery

If you are underweight, your mesothelioma care team may tell you to gain weight before surgery. Being at a healthy weight going into a mesothelioma surgery can reduce the risk of infection, boost recovery, and improve wound healing.

Some mesothelioma surgeries can make eating difficult. Peritoneal mesothelioma patients may receive nutrition intravenously after abdominal surgery, for example.

Once you can eat, you should eat nutritious meals after surgery to increase energy levels and replenish your blood supply.

Did You Know?

Post-surgery pain medication may cause nausea, decrease appetite, and contribute to constipation. You can reduce constipation by drinking more water and eating more fiber.

How to Avoid Food-Borne Illnesses

Unfortunately, mesothelioma patients are at a higher risk for food-borne illnesses (food poisoning). Their weakened immune systems may not correctly identify and fight parasites, bacteria, and other potentially dangerous organisms in food.

Mesothelioma patients should follow these steps to avoid food-borne illnesses.

1. Stay Away From Undercooked or Raw Foods

Raw or undercooked foods made from animals are the most likely to be contaminated by potentially dangerous organisms. Examples include unpasteurized milk, lightly cooked or raw eggs, undercooked poultry and meat, and raw shellfish.

2. Follow Food Safety Tips

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shares these tips for avoiding food-borne illnesses:

  • Wash surfaces and hands often. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap before eating and after preparing food. You should also wash your cutting boards, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing food.
  • Don’t cross-contaminate. Raw meat, eggs, and seafood can spread germs to cooked food unless you keep them separate. Use one cutting plate or board for raw seafood, eggs, and meat, and another surface for breads, produce, and other foods that are ready to eat.
  • Cook raw meat to the right temperature. Food is safe to eat only when it is cooked to a temperature that is high enough to kill germs. Use a food thermometer to determine whether foods have a safe internal temperature.
  • Refrigerate food promptly. Bacteria can multiply rapidly when food isn’t quickly refrigerated. Keep your refrigerator set at 40°F or below and your freezer at 0°F or below. Additionally, remember to dispose of food before it spoils.

3. Watch for Food Recalls and Disease Outbreaks

Keeping an eye on food-related disease outbreaks and food recalls can also prevent food-borne illnesses. Once you discover that a particular type or brand of food may have problems, you should avoid any consumption or contact with it.

As an example, a recall was issued in February 2024 after the FDA and CDC’s investigation into Listeria monocytogenes infections linked to certain cheeses and dairy products manufactured in California and sold under various brand names. Certain strains of Listeria can cause fever, muscle aches, nausea, tiredness, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Here are other bacteria that can cause food recalls and disease outbreaks:

  • E. coli is a bacteria that can cause mild to severe gastrointestinal illness. It is mostly harmless but certain strains can lead to symptoms like stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever, and vomiting.
  • Salmonella is a bacterial illness that may be caused by eating foods contaminated with animal feces.
  • Scombroid fish poisoning happens when you eat fish contaminated with high histamine levels. Common symptoms include palpitations, rash, flushing, vomiting, sweating, and headaches.

4. Know the Symptoms of Food Poisoning

Last but not least, you should know the symptoms of food poisoning. This will help you get treatment on time and avoid future bouts of food poisoning.

Common food poisoning side effects include the following:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Appetite loss
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Flu-like sickness
  • Muscle pain and aches
  • Nausea
  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness

If you think you have food poisoning, monitor your symptoms and seek medical care right away if they become severe.

Get Help Managing Mesothelioma Diet and Nutrition

Maintaining a healthy mesothelioma diet and nutrition plan can be challenging for patients and their caregivers.

Fortunately, Mesothelioma Hope can assist you. For over 20 years, we’ve helped countless families facing this cancer by providing free nutritional resources for mesothelioma as well as guidance on the best treatment options and clinical trials.

Call our team of Patient Advocates right now at (866) 608-8933 to get the help and support you need.

Mesothelioma Diet FAQs

What is the best diet for mesothelioma patients?

The best diet plan for mesothelioma is a high-protein diet that includes:

  • Cheese
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Greek yogurt
  • Lean pork and beef
  • Nuts
  • Peas, lentils, and beans
  • Soy foods

Keep in mind, however, that certain foods may react negatively with chemotherapy, immunotherapy drugs, and other treatments. Talk to your cancer care team to learn more about your dietary options.

What foods should a mesothelioma patient avoid?

Certain foods may worsen cancer treatment side effects and weaken your immune system.

Some foods to avoid include:

  • Anything that contains raw or soft-cooked eggs
  • Raw or lightly cooked fish
  • Unpasteurized (raw) dairy products and cheese
  • Unwashed vegetables and fruits

You should also avoid food that is hard to digest, such as red meat, highly processed cold cuts, alcohol, and sugary foods. Eating these foods during mesothelioma treatments can increase cancer spread.

What are the dietary side effects of mesothelioma?

Common side effects include loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, changes in taste or smell, digestive issues, and fatigue.

However, it’s important to remember that side effects can vary from patient to patient based on their stage of mesothelioma and the types of treatment received.

Jenna TozziWritten by:

Director of Patient Advocacy

Jenna Tozzi, RN, is the Director of Patient Advocacy at Mesothelioma Hope. With more than 15 years of experience as an adult and pediatric oncology nurse navigator, Jenna provides exceptional guidance and support to mesothelioma patients and their loved ones. Jenna has been featured in Oncology Nursing News and is a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators & the American Nurses Association.

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References
  1. American Cancer Society. (2019, July 15). “Nutrition for People With Cancer.” Retrieved May 16, 2024, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/survivorship/coping/nutrition.html
  2. Canadian Cancer Society. “Eating Well.” Retrieved May 16, 2024, from https://cancer.ca/en/living-with-cancer/coping-with-changes/feeling-your-best/eating-well
  3. Cancer Research UK. “Sugar and cancer – what you need to know.” Retrieved May 16, 2024, from https://news.cancerresearchuk.org/2020/10/20/sugar-and-cancer-what-you-need-to-know/
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Four Steps to Food Safety: Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill.” Retrieved May 16, 2024, fromhttps://www.cdc.gov/food-safety/prevention/
  5. JCO Oncology Practice: An American Society of Clinical Oncology Journal. “Nutrition in Cancer Care: A Brief, Practical Guide With a Focus on Clinical Practice.” Retrieved May 16, 2024, from https://ascopubs.org/doi/full/10.1200/OP.20.00704
  6. Mayo Clinic. “Diabetic hypoglycemia.” Retrieved May 16, 2024, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetic-hypoglycemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20371525
  7. MD Anderson Cancer Center. (2019, August 9). 3 nutrients cancer survivors should know. Retrieved May 16, 2024, from
    https://www.mdanderson.org/cancerwise/3-nutrients-cancer-survivors-should-know-flaxseed-omega-3s-iron.h00-159305412.html
  8. Minnesota Department of Health. “Causes and Symptoms of Foodborne Illness.” Retrieved May 16, 2024, from https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/foodborne/basics.html
  9. National Cancer Institute. “Nutrition in Cancer Care (PDQ®)–Patient Version.” Retrieved May 16, 2024, from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/appetite-loss/nutrition-pdq
  10. Stanford Medicine Health Care. “Nutrition Services for Cancer Patients.“ Retrieved May 16, 2024, from https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-clinics/cancer-nutrition-services/during-cancer-treatment.html
  11. The James: The Ohio State University.”The Importance of Protein for Cancer Patients.” Retrieved May 16, 2024, from https://cancer.osu.edu/blog/the-importance-of-protein-for-cancer-patients
  12. U.S. Department of Agriculture: Food Safety and Inspection Service. “Kraft Heinz Foods Company Recalls Ready-To-Eat Ham and Cheese Loaf Products Due to Possible Cross-Contamination From Under-Processed Products.” Retrieved May 16, 2024, from https://www.fsis.usda.gov/recalls-alerts/kraft-heinz-foods-company-recalls-ready-eat-ham-and-cheese-loaf-products-due
  13. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Outbreak Investigation of Listeria monocytogenes: Queso Fresco and Cotija Cheese (February 2024). Retrieved May 16, 2024, from https://www.fda.gov/food/outbreaks-foodborne-illness/outbreak-investigation-listeria-monocytogenes-queso-fresco-and-cotija-cheese-february-2024
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