While effective at treating cancer, radiation therapy is difficult on the body because the radiation affects all cells in the treated area, not just those of the tumor. Normal cells are usually able to recover with time, but during the treatment itself, the patient may have to deal with unpleasant side effects. The specific side effects depend on the region of the body that is receiving the radiation, but nearly all patients can expect consequences that will affect their diet and eating habits.
The radiation for individuals receiving treatment for pleural mesothelioma will be concentrated in the chest area, and these patients might expect to experience trouble swallowing, heartburn, fatigue, and loss of appetite. While these symptoms can start two to three weeks after the beginning of treatment and usually last an additional two to three weeks after treatment stops, some side effects may take up to three months to appear after the radiation is stopped. These may include narrowing of the esophagus, chest pain following physical exertion, an enlarged heart, inflammation of the pericardium, and inflammation or scarring of the lungs.
Peritoneal mesothelioma, while rarer than mesothelioma occurring in the chest, requires radiation of the abdomen. This treatment may result in loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, gas, bloating, difficulty digesting milk and milk products, changes in urination, and fatigue. Three months after treatment, diarrhea, blood in the urine, or bladder irritation may occur.
Though anyone experiencing severe side effects should speak to a doctor or nurse, a balanced, nutritious diet can help the patient tolerate these effects by maintaining weight as well as boosting strength and energy and reducing risk of infection.
Radiation Therapy Nutrition Tips
If the radiation treatment center has a kitchen, considering bringing your own snacks, such as single servings of fruit, pudding, gelatin, or ice cream. If there is no refrigeration available, try cheese or peanut butter crackers, granola bars, or cereal. In addition to having snacks ready for your time at the treatment center, be sure to have some food for the road if your trip is a long one.
Try to have some food in your stomach at least an hour before your treatment will begin. If you are having trouble eating – it hurts to eat, or the food simply does not taste good to you – try eating small, frequent meals accompanied by plenty of liquids, rather than a few large meals. In addition, proper hydration is very important, so be sure to drink eight to ten eight-ounce glasses of water daily.
Liquid meal replacements, along with other nutritional supplements, may be an option if solid food becomes a problem. Be sure to consult your doctor – the insurance company may pay for these if ordered through a health care professional. Finally, be sure to consult with your doctor or nurse before making any significant changes to your diet. A health care professional may have specific advice on managing the side effects of radiation through nutrition, though if symptoms are severe enough, they may best be treated with the use of additional medications.