Addressing Diet and Nutrition in Patients With Mesothelioma

A registered dietician discussed the importance of maintaining one’s weight while going through treatment for mesothelioma.
BY Kristie L. Kahl
PUBLISHED August 12, 2019
Maintaining a proper nutritious diet, as well as muscle mass, are key to helping patients with mesothelioma recover from treatment.

In a recent interview with CURE, Suzanne Dixon, a registered dietician at the Mesothelioma Center discussed the importance of maintaining one’s weight while going through treatment for mesothelioma.

CURE: What are some common nutritional problems associated with mesothelioma?
Dixon: One thing that a lot of people assume is that people with cancer are going to uniformly experience the same symptoms and that isn’t always the case. It is a broad generalization, but there are certain tumor types, and mesothelioma is one of them, where people tend to become hypermetabolic – in other words, their metabolism is running at an extra rapid pace – and they are in a state where they are burning off calories. It’s pretty challenging to get enough to eat to prevent unintentional weight loss. When that is going on in your body, you don’t tend to burn fat tissue.

When you are a mesothelioma patient, the same factors that make your body burn too quickly, they also prevent your body from making a shift of not burning healthier tissues and just burning the fat. What happens is, people tend to burn the wrong kind of weight. They burn muscle tissue and other types of lean body mass. They lose the weight that we want them to stay healthy and hold onto. So, that is the biggest challenge – trying to help people understand that regardless of your starting point with weight, your body doesn’t make that shift so you are not burning the right type of tissue. If you are losing weight without trying, we want to stop that, keep the weight stable and preserve those healthy tissues.

What are examples of foods to eat, and also to limit?
We focus on protein, so that would be chicken, beef, fish, nuts, seeds. And for the limit, it is interesting because I spend a lot of time working in cancer survivorship and prevention, and we focus a lot on the really healthy plant foods, so things like kale, broccoli, salads and all the great foods we know have a lot of vital nutrients. But unfortunately, we know those foods have low calories. I often worry about people with mesothelioma and are struggling to keep their weight up is to keep it stable and if you can eat those other foods that is great, but if you can’t at this particular time – like if they are going through treatment – we want them to focus on meals loaded with calories or protein.

When it comes to keeping weight up, nothing is off limits. People get a lot of mixed messages of what they should and shouldn’t be eating when they have cancer. The how, the what, the type of food – we don’t have that type of data that says cutting this food out or keeping this one in is going to help treat your cancer. What we do know is that if you lose weight, that is a factor that is documented to worsen outcomes. No matter what you’ve read about the latest diets, if you have a type of cancer where you are struggling to keep your weight up, we have copious amounts of data that the overriding factor is keeping your weight stable so your body can rebuild itself.

What is your biggest piece of advice for patients?
Keep the lines of communication with your care team open. Make sure your priorities are very clear to your team. Mesothelioma is not curable, so people have a lot of tough decisions to make. What is my quality of life? How much am I willing to give up? Those are very individual decisions and only the patient can know what is right for them.
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