Why Are Diet and Nutrition Important for Mesothelioma Patients?

Diet and nutrition for mesothelioma impact weight, immunity and general health. Many mesothelioma patients should consume more protein and limit whole grains. Proteins may boost the immune system and restore tissue damaged by mesothelioma.

Nutrition supports the body’s immune system and maintains energy levels. Patients should consume a balanced diet rich in protein, vitamins and minerals. A healthy diet can also reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.

Diet and nutrition are essential for mesothelioma patients because:
  • They boost the immune system. A robust immune system is vital in fighting cancer and infections. Proper nutrition can help strengthen the immune system.
  • They provide energy. Consuming the right foods can give you the power to carry out daily activities. Mesothelioma treatment can be taxing on the body.
  • You can maintain a healthy weight. A proper weight reduces complications during and after mesothelioma treatment. Eating a balanced diet helps you maintain a healthy weight.
  • You can manage treatment side effects. Nausea, fatigue and more are associated with mesothelioma treatment. Eating healthy can help reduce side effects.

Common diet concerns for people with mesothelioma include eating too little protein and too few calories. Both are essential to aid recovery, support immunity and fight fatigue.

Top Diet Tips for Mesothelioma Patients
  1. Eat 5-6 small meals or snacks every 2 or 3 hours instead of 3 large meals daily. This can help you get the nutrients you need without feeling too full or overwhelmed.
  2. Choose nutrient-dense foods that are easy to eat. These can include full-fat Greek yogurt, eggs and salmon. You can also try whole milk, fruit and protein powder smoothies. These foods will help keep your energy levels up and give your body the nutrients it needs to heal.
  3. If cooking smells bother you, avoid kitchens. Also, try colder foods such as sandwiches or cheese with crackers. This can help reduce nausea and other unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy.
  4. Taste changes are typical with chemotherapy. Experimenting with different foods can help you find more palatable ones. Try sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavors to identify what your taste buds can handle.
  5. Try a mouthwash of 1 quart water, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon baking soda. This mixture clears taste buds and relieves dry mouth. This can help improve your sense of taste and make eating more enjoyable.
  6. Eating at routine times can help keep your energy levels up and prevent malnutrition. If you’re not eating every 3 hours, set a timer. It’s easy to forget to eat when you’re not feeling well.
  7. Stay hydrated with water, milk, 100% fruit or vegetable juices and soups. These liquids will help keep you hydrated. They’ll also provide your body with essential nutrients.

Before dietary changes are made, all patients should consult with their mesothelioma doctor.

Foods to Aid Recovery After Mesothelioma Treatment

Some foods contain nutrients that may support recovery after mesothelioma treatment. Also, some foods can negatively interact with chemotherapy and other mesothelioma drugs. Speak to your doctor about possible interactions.

While antioxidants are generally considered part of a healthy diet, they neutralize free radicals. Many chemotherapy drugs use free radicals to attack cancer cells. Chemotherapy patients may be advised to avoid foods and supplements high in antioxidants.

Speak with your doctor about adding the following foods to your diet.

  • Fiber-Rich Foods: Vegetables, fruit, beans, potatoes and nuts can balance insulin levels, possibly minimizing cancer cell growth.
  • Green Tea (Brewed from Loose Leaf or Tea Bag):Rich in antioxidants.
  • Medicinal Teas: Essiac tea or moringa leaf are antioxidant-rich and may have limited anti-cancer actions in the body, though more research is needed to assess potential benefits.
  • Natural Sources of Coenzyme Q: The nutrient in beef, chicken, pork, trout, herring, sardines, soybeans, lentils and peanuts may protect the heart from chemo damage.
  • Omega-3 Fats in Fish: May reduce harmful weight loss and inhibit metastasis.
  • Other Herbal Teas: Chamomile, ginger, mint and hibiscus may have anti-cancer properties.
  • Spices: Turmeric, basil, oregano, rosemary, mint, dill and others may have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Nutritional and herbal therapies usually are less well-researched than mainstream medications. This makes it even harder to predict what problems they may cause when combined with chemotherapy. Even traditional supplements doctors may recommend can have harmful interactions with mesothelioma therapy. For example, vitamin B6 supplements can interact negatively with cisplatin.

Couple using the Nutrition Guide from the Mesothelioma Center
Free Mesothelioma Nutrition Guide
Eating the right diet throughout mesothelioma treatment can ease your symptoms.

Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs and Other Dietary Supplements

Supplements may provide relief from certain symptoms or side effects. Some mesothelioma patients may experience a decrease in appetite. You may have difficulty digesting food due to cancer or treatment. Your provider may recommend protein powder, nutritional shakes or meal replacement bars.

Dietary supplements can interact with cancer drugs. These interactions may make them less effective or cause harmful side effects. High levels of vitamin C or E can interfere with radiotherapy. St. John’s wort, ginseng and garlic supplements may also interfere with chemo drugs.

Other supplements can have potential benefits for cancer patients. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil may help reduce inflammation and improve heart health. This property can benefit patients with a higher risk for heart problems. Ginger supplements may also help relieve nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.

Discuss any supplements you are considering with your provider before taking them. They can provide guidance on which supplements are safe to take. They’ll also tell you which ones to avoid during mesothelioma treatment.

Meal Planning for Your Mesothelioma Diet

Meal planning can alleviate the stress associated with food shopping. Meal prepping will also make crafting and following your mesothelioma diet easier.

As a caregiver, stock up on the patient’s favorite foods when food shopping. Buy items essential for meeting their nutritional needs. This can reduce the need to shop often.

Planning Healthy Portions

The U.S. Department of Agriculture retired the Food Guide Pyramid years ago and replaced it with My Plate. However, My Plate isn’t designed to give people with cancer information about their specific nutrition needs before, during and after treatment.

Health Eating Plate
A diet to follow for mesothelioma patients

The Harvard School of Public Health created the Healthy Eating Plate — a better starting place for designing a healthy diet for people with mesothelioma. The effects of cancer and treatment can make it challenging to eat.

You’ll need to adjust the Healthy Eating Plate guidelines during cancer therapy to find the best mesothelioma diet for you.

Replace green vegetables, salads and other lower-calorie foods with starchy vegetables such as potatoes and sweet potatoes. For most mesothelioma patients, it’s helpful to increase the protein portion of the plate and decrease whole grains a bit. Sometimes, you may need to add a high-protein, high-calorie liquid nutrition supplement.

Rarely, mesothelioma may also cause hypoglycemia, a form of low blood sugar that can be controlled through medication and diet. In 2021, a case study was reported on a 77-year-old man who developed nonislet cell tumor hypoglycemia associated with malignant mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is responsible for 8% of NICTH cases.

Tips to Get More from Your Meals

Eating enough and getting proper nutrition can be challenging if you have mesothelioma. Here are some tips to help you get more from your meals:

  • Eat multiple small meals throughout the day instead of three large ones.
  • Snack whenever you are hungry, even if it is not mealtime, and enjoy the foods that appeal to you at the time.
  • Drink liquids after meals or as snacks, not before or during mealtime. Liquid can fill you up before you have the chance to consume the whole, nutrient-dense foods on your plate.
  • Include a portion of protein, such as poultry, fish, eggs, beans or peanut butter, at each meal.
  • Juice fresh fruits and vegetables to obtain their nutrients without filling up. If you don’t own a juicer, you can create a juice with a blender and cheesecloth. Blend fruit or vegetables with filtered water, then strain with a cheesecloth available at most grocery stores.
  • Consume your favorite foods any time of day. If you love breakfast foods, eating them for lunch or dinner is OK.
  • Create a joyful or relaxing setting by enjoying food with friends or family.

Tips to Add Protein

Patients with mesothelioma may have difficulty eating and require additional nutrients to maintain their weight and strength. Here are some tips for adding protein:

  • Eat protein-rich foods regularly, such as chicken, fish, lean beef and pork, Greek yogurt, beans, nuts, spinach, cheese, eggs and soy foods such as tofu or tempeh.
  • Add cheese to omelets, sandwiches, soups, salads and casseroles.
  • Increase protein in milk by blending one packet of dry milk powder into one quart of whole milk.
  • Powdered milk can also be added to milkshakes, cream-based soups and mashed potatoes.
  • Add cooked meats to omelets, soups and salads.
  • Snack on cheese, nut butter, roasted nuts or sliced meats.
  • Blend nut butter or ice cream into smoothies and milkshakes, and add vanilla or plain whey protein powder for a more balanced snack or meal.
  • Choose desserts made with eggs, such as cheesecake, custard and pudding.

Tips to Add Calories

Mesothelioma patients often struggle with maintaining a healthy weight due to the side effects of treatments. Adding extra calories to meals can be challenging, but patients must get the necessary nutrients to help their bodies fight cancer. Here are some tips to increase the calories in your meals:

  • Avoid foods labeled as low-fat, nonfat and low-calorie. For example, choose whole milk in place of reduced fat.
  • Opt for high-calorie drinks like milkshakes with added ice cream or fruit nectars.
  • Cook with butter and oil, and add them to meals when possible. For example, top vegetables and bread with butter or toss oil into rice, pasta and casseroles.
  • Add avocado to sandwiches and salads. Eat guacamole with tortilla chips.
  • Smear cream cheese onto bagels, sandwiches or crackers.
  • Toss salads with high-calorie dressings.
  • Top vegetables with creamy or cheesy sauces.
  • Add Greek yogurt, heavy cream or sour cream to dessert recipes, sauces and soups.
  • If sweet flavors are appealing, add whipped cream or chocolate sauce to pancakes, waffles, French toast, ice cream and cakes.

Prepare meals in advance and freeze them in meal-sized portions that are easy to heat. Talk with a dietitian if you want assistance planning your meals or preparing a grocery list.

Dr. Jacques Fontaine and Dr. Virginia Wolf
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Understanding Nutrition During Mesothelioma Treatment

Mesothelioma treatment can affect your ability to eat as you usually do. You can take proactive measures to meet nutritional needs for each type of treatment.


Certain surgeries can complicate eating. Some peritoneal mesothelioma patients may receive nutrition intravenously shortly after abdominal surgery.

If you are underweight, you may need to gain weight before surgery. A healthy weight before mesothelioma surgery can improve wound healing, reduce infection risk and aid recovery.

Proper nutrition after your surgery will also replace blood loss and increase your energy level. Post-operative care and nutrition are essential considerations for patients returning to normal health.


Chemotherapy affects chewing and digestion because the treatment kills cells in the mouth, hair follicles and digestive tract. Cool or lukewarm soft foods may reduce chewing if mouth sores develop from the treatment.

Some patients receiving cisplatin experience extreme cold sensitivity. If this happens, avoid handling or eating icy or frozen foods.

Chemotherapy also may cause nausea, decrease appetite or change how food tastes. Alterations to your diet and eating habits can help you cope with these side effects. For example, eating with plastic or wooden utensils can help if the food tastes metallic.

Radiation Therapy

Receiving radiation therapy around the chest can impact swallowing. It is rare for peritoneal mesothelioma patients to receive radiation around the abdomen, but this can cause digestive issues such as nausea, vomiting, cramps, bloating and diarrhea.


Immunotherapy unleashes the immune system to recognize and destroy cancer. Because the treatment removes the usual restrictions on immune cells, they can attack normal tissue, too.

Side effects of immunotherapy may include diarrhea, vomiting, trouble breathing, cough, rashes and vision changes. They require immediate attention from your oncologist. Doctors may use steroids and other medications to reduce immune attacks on healthy tissue.

Pain Medications

Certain pain medications can decrease appetite, cause nausea and contribute to constipation. Increasing dietary fiber and water can help lessen constipation.

Always drink plenty of water when increasing fiber because, without adequate fluids, constipation may worsen.

Eating enough during treatment is always the goal but often times easier said than done. I find making small changes can make a big impact on your nutrition plan.
Tejal Parekh
Registered & Licensed Dietitian

Food Safety and Mesothelioma

For people undergoing mesothelioma treatment, food safety is crucial. Cancer therapies like radiation and chemotherapy often weaken the immune system. A weakened immune system may not correctly fight bacteria, parasites or other potentially dangerous organisms in food.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services outlines four critical steps to ensure food safety: clean, separate, cook and chill. Avoid raw or undercooked meat, poultry, seafood and eggs. Unpasteurized or raw milk and cheeses should also be avoided. 

Foodborne illnesses or “food poisoning” can cause serious adverse effects. Food poisoning side effects can include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Flu-like illness
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness

Paying attention to reports of food recalls and food-related disease outbreaks can also help prevent health complications. Avoid any contact with or consumption of suspected foods.

For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service issued a public health alert in December 2022 for ground beef that tested positive for E. coli. That same month, the Kraft Heinz Company recalled approximately 2,400 pounds of ready-to-eat ham and cheese loaf because of possible cross-contamination with under-processed products.

Common Questions About Nutrition & Mesothelioma

What is the best diet for mesothelioma patients?

Mesothelioma doctors recommend that cancer patients eat foods rich in nutrients such as eggs, fruit and salmon. Also, patients should have a diet high in protein with starchy vegetables and plenty of water to counter the effects of mesothelioma treatment.

Can a registered dietician help me develop a personalized nutrition plan?

A registered dietitian can assess your nutritional needs and help develop a personalized nutrition plan. They’ll base a program on your needs, preferences and health status, including mesothelioma. A registered dietitian can also help you navigate any dietary restrictions or challenges that may arise during your treatment.

Can certain foods or drinks interfere with my medications or treatments?

Yes, some foods may interact with chemotherapy drugs, which can impact their effectiveness or cause side effects. Supplements may also interfere with cancer treatments. A registered dietitian can guide you on potential interactions. Discuss any supplements or dietary changes with your health care team.

How do you cure mesothelioma with diet?

While no mesothelioma cure exists, a healthy diet can offset the adverse effects of cancer therapy and improve the treatment outcome. Eating the right foods can make treatment recovery more manageable and improve prognosis.

What diet helps prevent mesothelioma?

A healthy diet and exercise are essential for lowering mesothelioma risks and other cancers. A healthy eating pattern will control your weight through various fruits, vegetables, fiber sources and low-calorie foods. Limiting your intake of red meats, sugar-sweetened beverages and highly processed foods will also lower your risk of cancer.

Does mesothelioma cause weight loss?

Unexplained weight loss is one of the signs of advanced mesothelioma. Weight loss can also be due to a lack of appetite or persistent nausea, which are symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma.