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Eating Tips During Cancer Treatment

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2017.

Good nutrition is especially important to support the person who is undergoing lung cancer treatment. Nutrition helps supply the body with the resources it needs to heal, recover from injury or illness, and handle stress. Lung cancer places both emotional and physical stress on the body, and several of the treatments used for lung cancer can impact a person’s desire or ability to eat. While not everyone has side effects that are related to eating, proper nutrition is essential for promoting health and well-being, keeping energy levels up, maintaining weight, lowering the risk of infection, and allowing the body to better tolerate treatment-related side effects.1

Dietary needs during treatment

Healthy eating usually includes lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals, modest amounts of meat and milk products, and limiting amounts of fat, sugar, alcohol, and salt. The body needs a proper balance of nutrients: protein, carbohydrates, fat, water, vitamins, and minerals. However, lung cancer and its treatment place additional needs on a person’s body, and lung cancer patients often need extra protein and calories.1,2

Side Effects That Influence Eating in Lung Cancer Treatment

Several of the common side effects from lung cancer treatments can impact a person’s ability or desire to eat, such as:

Not everyone experiences all of these side effects, or at the same severity, and the side effects can vary based on the exact treatment a person receives. Many of these side effects can be managed or prevented, and most side effects go away after treatment is completed. Patients should discuss their concerns as well as any side effects they experience with their doctor, nurse, or dietitian. These health care professionals can often provide medications or strategies to help ease side effects and improve nutrition.1,2

Eating tips and ideas

There are several strategies and ideas that can help someone going through treatment for lung cancer to get proper nutrition and maintain their weight. Patients are encouraged to talk to their doctor or dietitian to get specific recommendations for their individualized needs.

  • Eat when appetite is the greatest. This may vary by person, and patients are encouraged to follow their own body’s rhythm.
  • Some treatments make it difficult for people with lung cancer to swallow. Adding sauces or gravies to food can help.
  • Liquid meal replacements can provide extra calories and protein and may be easier to consume for some people rather than a full meal.
  • Hydration is critical, and patients undergoing treatment for lung cancer are encouraged to drink plenty of liquids throughout the day.
  • Avoid infections by washing all fruits and vegetables, washing hands before and after food preparation, cooking meats thoroughly, avoiding raw fish or shellfish, avoiding buffets, avoiding foods with mold (like bleu cheese), and keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
  • Eat snacks throughout the day, rather than large meals.
  • Get a little exercise before meals, such as walking, to help increase appetite.1,2

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