Mesothelioma Treatments

Proper Nutrition During Mesothelioma Radiation

It is one of the ironies of the physical universe that radiation can both cause cancer (as has happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Hanford, Washington, southern Utah and Chernobyl) and can also help cure it. In both cases, DNA damage is wreaked on the atomic level. In the former, this damage causes cells to start multiplying; in the latter, the same ionizing radiation is used to destroy cancerous cells.

Radiation therapy may be used alone or as an adjuvant treatment in combination with chemotherapy, hormone therapy and/or surgery. By itself, it is painless, but can have some unpleasant side effects - including anorexia, which is simply a loss of appetite. The more obvious symptoms can include the same nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy as well as mouth sores that can make eating difficult.

Radiation poisoning (for this is exactly what it is) can also manifest itself in psychological ways as undefined anxiety and depression - further inhibiting the appetite for food. Extreme fatigue is yet another side effect, meaning that there will be times when the patient will simply not have enough energy to prepare meals or even eat them.

The fact is however that proper nutrition - including ingesting all necessary vitamins and minerals as well as extra calories - is more important during cancer treatments than at any other time. The patient and the doctor must therefore do some advance planning, because when it comes to radiation therapy, some days are better than others.

About Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy really got its start nearly half a century before the "Atomic Age," when Dr. Wilhelm Rontgen of Germany discovered the electromagnetic radiation that made x-rays possible in 1895. A few years later, the pioneering work of Marie and Pierre Curie in France resulted in the discovery of polonium and radium (which ironically, resulted in Marie's eventual death from radiation poisoning). These substances were used until the 1950s, when they were replaced by cobalt and cesium.

Targeted radiation applied to tumors was not possible until the invention of Computed Tomography in the early 1970s, which allowed doctors to see the inside of the human body in three dimensions for the first time. With the tremendous advances in 3-D computer imaging that includes magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET) and other high-resolution digital imaging technology, oncologists are able to target radiation treatments with far greater precision than ever before with fewer side effects and better results.

Nutrition Challenges

In addition to nausea and vomiting and mouth sores, many patients who receive radiation therapy also suffer from diarrhea. Radiation therapy around the head and neck can also change the taste of food or cause "dry mouth."

Because the patient may not feel like eating, it is important to ingest foods that are nutrient-dense and high in calories and protein so the patient gets the maximum benefit from the least amount of food.

Mesothelioma patients can benefit from a proper nutritious diet in a number of ways. To learn more about how to incorporate nutrient dense foods into a cancer patient's diet, please fill out the form on this page to receive our comprehensive mesothelioma packet.

What Constitutes "Nutrient Dense"

Foods that are "nutrient dense" are also known as "superfoods;" they contain a high ratio of important vitamins and minerals in proportion to the amount one needs to eat. For example, a half cup of blueberries contains as much in the way of antioxidants as two cups of corn or chopped spinach (not that spinach should be disregarded, as this too is a superfood with its own benefits).

Basically, ingesting these "superfoods" means the patient can receive the same nutrient benefits without having to ingest a great deal of bulk, making them ideal for those with little appetite.

About Protein and Calories

Although it is important to ingest extra calories during cancer treatments, quality is much more important than quantity. High calorie foods for cancer patients do not mean fast food or packaged snacks, but rather whole grains, potatoes and legumes, and healthy fats from sources such as eggs and dairy, cold-water fish, nuts and olive oil - all of which have high caloric content.

Patients choosing salmon should purchase wild salmon only; "farmed" salmon is raised under very unsanitary conditions, and has added dyes to improve its appearance that are of questionable safety. As far as dairy products are concerned, yogurt with live and active cultures is an excellent choice; research has shown that it not only helps the digestive process but also helps to boost immune function. This is extremely important, as the immune systems of radiation patients can be compromised as a side effect of the treatment.

Patients may find it easier to ingest food by waiting a few hours after undergoing radiation treatments. Such patients may also find their appetite is better a few days before or after their treatments as well.

About Supplements

Vitamin supplements can also be helpful in making certain that the patient gets sufficient nutrients. These should be used under a doctor's guidance, however; improperly taken, vitamin supplements may be at best useless and at worst harmful. The same holds for herbal supplements; these are as likely to cause interactions as readily as prescription drugs, and should be used under the guidance of a licensed herbalist or naturopath as well as your oncologist.

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