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Eating healthy with Lung Cancer


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Lung cancer and its treatments can make eating a challenge. These cancer diet tips can make swallowing easier for the lung cancer patient.

Lack of appetite, nausea, pain and tenderness in the throat, and difficulty swallowing can make eating difficult when you have lung cancer. But a few food preparation tips and meal ideas can help you get the nutrients you need while you're undergoing lung cancer treatment.

"From a lung cancer perspective, the symptom that immediately comes to mind that lung cancer patients tend to complain about is difficulty swallowing," says Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, director of nutrition and physical activity at the American Cancer Society.

What Foods to Consider in a Lung Cancer Diet

Often, lung cancer patients receive radiation therapy to the chest, which can cause esophageal problems, says Doyle. Whether you're undergoing lung cancer treatment yourself or you're a caregiver cooking for someone with lung cancer, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to a lung cancer diet:

Have a variety of foods on hand that are soft or semi-soft, so they don't irritate a tender throat.

Avoid foods that are very tart, acidic, or spicy — such as citrus fruits and tomato-based foods.

Avoid foods that have rough textures or sharp edges, including raw fruits and vegetables, crackers, or pretzels.

More Lung Cancer Diet Tips

How you prepare the meals can also make a big difference. Here are some tips to make food a little easier to swallow:

Try steaming vegetables to make them soft, so they are easier to chew and swallow.

Eat frequent, smaller meals throughout the day, rather than three large ones.

Try thicker liquids — instead of a glass of milk, try a milkshake, which can be easier to swallow. Soups thickened with blended potatoes are also a good choice.

Drinks plenty of fluids, but have them between meals, not with.

Pack meals with protein to promote healing.

Stick to mild, bland foods for people who are nauseated. Serving them at room temperature can help ease nausea as well.

It's very important to make sure that the lung cancer patient is getting enough calories each day to keep up energy levels.

"When somebody is experiencing a lot of weight loss, be sure that the foods that you eat and the liquids that you drink are really calorically dense," says Doyle.

The American Cancer Society has recently released a new cookbook called What to Eat During Cancer Treatment that can help lung cancer patients and caregivers ensure proper nutrition and encourage eating. The recipes are categorized by symptom, says Doyle, so it's easy to pick a meal that will accommodate particular problems and symptoms.

Eating With Lung Cancer

Liz Williams, 58, of Levittown, N.Y., knew she needed to eat and drink during her treatment for lung cancer — but it was a tall order. Diagnosed in December 2003 with non-small cell lung cancer, she had a lung removed and underwent a grueling chemotherapy regimen. She is now cancer-free, but it was a long, tough road.

Immediately after surgery, she says, she was on high doses of steroids and had a good appetite. Then, she says, she started chemotherapy, and things changed.

"After the first few days after my first infusion, it was very difficult because I didn't even want to drink water," says Williams. Water and food tasted strange, but she knew she needed plenty of nutrition and hydration to keep up her strength.

So how did she cope? Before she started a round of chemotherapy, she loaded up on food and calories — salads, steaks, baked potatoes — because she knew that once the medication kicked in, she wouldn't be able to stomach it. She found that she could sometimes manage watered-down Sprite, the occasional comforting bowl of chicken noodle soup, or an egg sandwich.

"It's very important to drink fluids to flush the chemicals," she says, and to eat whenever you have an appetite to get through lung cancer treatment.

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