Last modified: November 9, 2020
A registered dietitian nutritionist is the member of the health care team with expertise in how best to feed patients before, during and after mesothelioma treatment.
Dietitians may be referred to as nutritionists, but nutritionists are not dietitians.
The combination of a college degree and a supervised internship means dietitians are the only health care professionals qualified to deliver an individualized nutrition plan.
Why Is a Dietitian Important for Mesothelioma Patients?
Treating mesothelioma may seem unrelated to eating, but good nutrition will give your body the fuel needed to prepare for and handle cancer treatment.
Mesothelioma patients can experience unique symptoms, making it difficult to eat well. A registered dietitian can help you address these challenges with an individualized nutrition plan, which also calledmedical nutrition therapy or MNT.
That plan can be adapted over time as your nutrition needs and symptoms change.
For mesothelioma and other cancer patients, serious malnutrition is a real threat.
In a 2017 Oncotarget paper, researchers described following adult patients with solid tumors who were just starting cancer treatment at 22 cancer facilities in Italy.
Of the 1,952 patients enrolled in the study, 51 percent were nutritionally impaired, nine percent had overt malnutrition and 43 percent were at risk of developing malnutrition.
Six months prior to beginning cancer treatment, 64 percent of this patient group had lost weight. Some people had lost more than 20 pounds.
Weight loss before and during cancer treatment is associated with more treatment toxicities and greater likelihood of needing to stop treatment early.
Eating right and balancing your diet while undergoing mesothelioma treatment is critical to your health. It can help reduce malnutrition risk and ease your symptoms.
What Does the Registered Dietitian Do?
Registered dietitians work with patients to develop a diet plan that will best fuel their body during prolonged medical care such as mesothelioma treatment.
The most common scenario is that patients can eat by mouth during and after treatment.
However, due to lack of appetite, early fullness, difficulty chewing or swallowing, nausea and other symptoms, they may be unable to meet nutrition needs with their usual diet.
The dietitian will develop a plan with protein and calorie goals for preventing unintentional weight loss and to help a patient better tolerate treatment.
When Oral Feeding Is a Challenge
In some cases, eating by mouth isn’t possible because of medical limitations or other disease processes.
When this happens, the registered dietitian will determine if the patient should be fed through a feeding tube inserted into the stomach or upper intestine.
In some cases, patients receive nutrition through their veins with a special solution called total parenteral nutrition, but this is rare for most cancer patients.
Although tube feeding is not common, patients should not be alarmed if it is called for. It will help them get adequate nutrition to tolerate and recover from treatment if chewing, swallowing or other digestive functions are impaired.
What Do Dietitians Include in Your Treatment Eating Plan?
The plan will include food lists and menus to help you meet your goals. This will keep you stronger as you go through treatment.
A dietitian’s treatment eating plan may include information on:
- Modifying textures and types of foods.
- Changes in frequency of eating and new times of day for snacks and meals.
- Activities to aid digestion.
- Tips on food safety and activities to avoid that may worsen nutrition-related symptoms.
- Specific foods to include that may have soothing or other digestive properties.
- Steps caregivers can take to help you meet your nutrition needs.
- Dietary supplements or herbs you may want to learn about.
If your symptoms are not well controlled with your current combination of medication and nutritional interventions, the registered dietitian will refer you back to your doctor or nurse.
You can discuss other medication options that may work better for you.
Don’t be tempted to replace your symptom-management medications with nutrition. They should go hand in hand.
Ask for a Referral to a Dietitian
Many cancer centers have just one dietitian or none. This means the on-site dietitian is only going to see a small portion of the patients treated at that facility.
In these cases, you need to seek a dietitian. It really is true that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Your health is at stake. Don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need.
Ideally, your mesothelioma care team will include a dietitian. If you do not have access to one right away, ask for a referral from your doctor or nurse. If possible, obtain a referral to see a dietitian with cancer experience.
However, even a nonspecialist dietitian can offer significant support and develop a plan for adding in more calories and protein each day.
Other Dietitian Resources
If your cancer center does not have a dietitian, ask your nurse for the number to the hospital’s clinical nutrition services. Call this department, explain your situation and ask to see a dietitian in the outpatient clinic.
Another resource is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics free Find an Expert service. Enter your zip code and this creates a map of nearby dietitians who may be available to see you.
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