Why Good Nutrition Is Essential

4 min read

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photo of lungs anatomy

Good nutrition is always important, but especially so when you have lung cancer. Although no diet can cure cancer, the right mix of nutrients will give your body the strength and energy it needs to get through treatment and recover. 

Eating well will also prevent you from losing weight and muscle strength, which doctors call cachexia. When you're at a healthy weight, you can tolerate chemotherapy and radiation better, and you’ll be more likely to finish your whole treatment. 

Getting the right mix of nutrients in your diet also helps you feel better during treatment. People who follow a nutritious diet are less likely to have chemotherapy side effects like anemia. 

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The first step in dealing with appetite loss is to find the cause and treat it. Your cancer center may offer palliative care, which could help you manage the symptoms that make you not feel like eating. Treatments like anti-nausea medication or pain-relieving spray can make it more comfortable for you to eat. Acupuncture might help with appetite and nausea.

FACT: What Is Palliative Care? Therapies designed to relieve the physical, emotional, and social effects of cancer or its treatment. It could include medications, nutritional advice, emotional support, and more.

Here are a few ways to eat more when you don't have an appetite.

  • Eat what you love.
    • This isn't the time to skimp on your high-calorie favorites. If ice cream and cake are the only things you can get down right now, eat them. When you start to feel better, add vegetables and other nutritious foods back into the mix. 
  • Bump up the calories and protein. 
    • These nutrients will prevent you from losing weight and muscle mass. Cheese and peanut butter are good protein sources. Milkshakes, salad dressing, gravy, cream, and butter provide extra calories. 
  • Downsize your servings. 
    • Three big meals might be too much for your system right now. Divide portions up into five or six small meals and snacks to nibble on when you feel like it.
  • Keep it cold.
    • The smell of cooking food can set off a wave of nausea for some people. If you can't stand hot food right now, serve it at room temperature or cold.
  • Drink your calories. 
    • When chewing is too painful or you just don't have the energy to eat, drink a high-calorie beverage like a nutritional supplement, fruit juice, or smoothie.
  • Experiment with flavors.
    • Chemotherapy can dull flavors or give certain foods a strange, metallic taste. Try different seasonings and marinades to make dishes more pleasing to your palate. To clear out the bad taste, rinse your mouth with a mixture of baking soda and salt, or suck on a lemon candy before meals.
  • Build your appetite with exercise.
    • If your doctor gives you the OK to exercise, take a 20-minute walk an hour before you eat to stimulate your appetite.

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Your favorite food. A special treat. A hot meal when you haven’t eaten for hours. When you’re living with non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC), you might reach a point where you can’t bring yourself to have any of it. 

Loss of appetite is a very common problem, especially in the later stages of the condition. You may feel less hungry than usual, not hungry at all, or full after you've eaten only a small amount of food. 

FACT: More than half of people with late-stage lung cancer lose their appetite. 

Even though the problem is usually temporary, it's important to pay attention to this symptom. Losing interest in eating can affect both the outcome of your cancer treatment and how you feel every day.

It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor and dietitian about this symptom. They can recommend ways to stimulate your appetite and help you get the food your body needs. 

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Appetite loss can be a symptom of any cancer, and a side effect of common cancer treatments, like chemotherapy, radiation, or immunotherapy. There are a few reasons why NSCLC makes you feel less hungry.

Your metabolism changes. All types of cancer can affect how your body breaks down the food you eat and makes it into energy.

You feel full. The liver is one of the most common places for lung cancer to spread. This organ sits on top of your stomach. If a tumor is growing there, your liver can swell and press on your stomach, making you feel full even when you haven't eaten. A buildup of fluid in your belly called ascites can also cause a feeling of fullness.

You're stressed or upset. Living with cancer can be hard emotionally as well as physically. You may not feel like eating when you're anxious, depressed, or stressed. 

You don't feel well. Any illness -- even a cold or the flu -- can affect your appetite. You're less likely to be hungry when you're dealing with symptoms like coughing, trouble breathing, or pain.   

Your treatments make it hard to eat. Some side effects of lung cancer treatments affect appetite or make eating more uncomfortable. 

FACT: Some types of tumors give off hormones that affect how your body knows that you’re hungry.

  • Possible Side Effects
    • Nausea and vomiting from radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy; Mouth sores and taste changes from chemotherapy; Sore throat and heartburn from radiation to the chest; Changes to hormones that make you feel hungry from immunotherapy