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Nutrition and Lung Cancer Side Effects

What should I eat if I am dealing with side effects?

Always talk to your doctor about any side effect you are experiencing. Ask for a referral to a palliative care team, which is made up of healthcare professionals who specialize in helping patients manage their side effects. Often, there are prescription drugs that can help, in addition to diet changes. Also, the members of our Inspire Lung Cancer Online Support Community have many great tips and tricks for managing side effects. The chart below offers tips for coping with common cancer side effects:

Side EffectConsiderations
Nausea and Vomiting
  • Ask your doctor about anti-nausea drugs and make sure you are taking them correctly.
  • Stick to clear liquids and bland, mild and cold foods. Dry, crunchy foods such as crackers and pretzels can also help.
  • Eat small meals throughout the day.
  • Ask your doctor about a juice supplement with protein.
  • Eat ginger candy and drink ginger tea. Trying combining ginger and peppermint tea together.
  • The first few days after treatment are often the worst. Do the best you can and focus on getting more nutrients when the nausea and vomiting subside.
  • Take sips of fluid throughout the day. Consider electrolyte popsicles.
  • If vomiting is severe, hold off on solids altogether until you get it under control. Focus on hydration. Then start adding in one food at a time so you know what foods you tolerate better.
Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Work closely with your doctor to make sure you aren’t losing too much weight.
  • Drink shakes and smoothies with protein.
  • Add healthy fats to your foods like avocado, nut butters and olive oil.
  • Eat more often if you can.
Mouth sores
  • Ask your doctor for a special mouth rinse you can buy or make at home.
  • Talk to your doctor about good oral hygiene.
  • Stick to cool foods, nothing too hot or too cold.
  • Eat foods that are soft, smooth and mild.
  • Drink liquids with a straw to bypass mouth sores in the front of your mouth.
Fatigue
  • Stay well hydrated. The amount of liquid you need is different for every person but the recommendation is 2-3 liters a day.
  • Limit liquids before bed time if using the bathroom is interrupting your sleep.
  • Eat regularly when possible.
  • Exercise when possible. Try for 10-15 minutes of walking three times a day.

What Are Bland Foods?

A bland diet is made up of foods that are soft, not very spicy and low in fiber. Here are some examples:

  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Cooked, canned or frozen vegetables (not raw)
  • Fruit and vegetable juices
  • Cooked or canned fruit with the skin and seeds removed such as applesauce, canned peaches or bananas
  • Bread, crackers and pasta made with refined white flour
  • Rice
  • Oatmeal and porridge (like Cream of Wheat®)
  • Poultry, lean fish and shellfish that is steamed, baked or grilled with no added fat
  • Creamy peanut butter
  • Pudding and custard
  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • Soup, especially broth
  • Weak tea

Where can I get help?

Nutritional Guidance: Meet with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) who works with lung cancer patients. Your doctor can refer you to a specialist with experience in the dietary needs of people with lung cancer.

Assistance with Meals: Sometimes you or your caregiver might be too tired to shop or cook. Don't be afraid to ask friends, family, co-workers and neighbors to help prepare meals or do the grocery shopping for you. Most people you know want to help; they just don't know how or don't want to intrude. Set up one of the caregiving support apps that are available that to help organize your volunteer network.

Lung HelpLine: If you have questions about lung health, including general questions about lung cancer nutrition, contact the specialists at our free Lung HelpLine by calling 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visiting Lung.org/helpline.

Lung Cancer Survivors Online Support Community on InspireConnect with the thousands of patients on our free online support community who may be able to offer support and nutritional tips and tricks. Always consult with your doctor before changing your diet.

Take Action

Sometimes finding the right diet that delivers proper nutrition during lung cancer treatment is a trial-and-error process. Talk to your doctor if you would like to see a registered dietitian nutritionist for nutritional guidance when you have lung cancer.

Content supported by an educational grant from Genentech.

Page last updated: March 22, 2020

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