Healthy Nutrition Advice for NSCLC Patients

Patients diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer (or NSCLC) may benefit from several changes in their diet. Research shows that gastrointestinal and digestive issues are common for many cancer patients. For patients with metastatic NSCLC specifically, dwindling appetite can be a very common impact of the cancer itself, due to the substances excreted by cancerous cells, which can exacerbate chronic stress, appetite loss, and malnutrition. However, appetite loss can also be a side effect of cancer treatment (i.e., chemotherapy and radiation), which can cause a domino effect of negative symptoms that lead to loss of appetite, including:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Changes in tastes and smell
  • Painful chewing
  • Dry mouth
  • Mouth sores and tenderness
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Fullness after consuming small amounts
  • Shortness of breath

The side effects listed above can significantly impact a cancer patients energy and overall immunity. Malnutrition due to poor appetite can further lead to vitamin deficiency, weight loss, muscle wasting, and even interfere with the success rates of treatment and life expectancy. So in addition to working closely with your oncologist recommendations, many lung cancer patients work in collaboration with a registered dietician in order to adopt a healthy, balanced diet that can help contribute to a more efficient recovery that lengthens survival rates. Here are several healthy eating tips for NSCLC patients:

1. Eat smaller meals
Many NSCLC patients become too full and nauseated at the idea of eating 3 large meals per day. As a alternative, try consuming 6 to 8 lighter meals throughout the day as you feel hungry. For instance, try more frequent small, high-protein snack meals vs. a few large meals.

2. Boost calorie intake with healthy fats
When you don’t feel like eating at all, the last thing you need is a restrictive food list. So eat what you enjoy or crave and try to focus on incorporating more healthy fat foods (i.e., yogurt, cheese, milk, oils, nuts, fatty meats, etc.) in your diet to boost calories and energy levels.

3. Cold foods
To combat nausea many registered dietitians suggest consuming cold meals or foods prepared at room temperature vs. hot meals. Not only are cold foods usually easier to digest, they are also less odorous (they smell less offensive) for those with sensitive stomachs and noses.

4. Go for fiber
Many cancer patients experience constipation due to cancer treatment. However, the easy fix is incorporating more fiber rich foods into your diet because they boost fluid intake and make bowel movements easier.

5. Don’t be afraid to supplement
The body can become deficient in numerous vitamins and minerals when fighting cancer. This is why when loss of appetite occurs, supplementing is often the best way to boost nutrition and energy levels. For instance, increasing vitamin D, vitamin Bs, selenium, and fatty acids (fish oils) can help the body better fight and recover from cancer.

6. Ask for help
During cancer treatment, patients are too often lacking appetite as well as the energy to prepare meals. So don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends and family when it comes to meal preparation and grocery shopping.