Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in Asia; and is also one of the most fatal for women and the most fatal for men. Unfortunately it is also a cancer that begins several years before it causes symptoms and can be diagnosed.
Cells in the lungs may become cancer cells after going through a series of mutations, which transform them into cancer cells. Typically cells die at a certain stage in their life cycle to avoid overgrowth. Cancer overrides this process causing cells to grow and multiply when they should not.
The overgrowth of cells leads to the development of tumours, and with lung cancer, this pattern of cell overgrowth occurs in the organs needed for respiration (breathing) which is basically an exchange of gases. Those at risk of developing lung cancer include smokers (single biggest risk group) and those exposed to chemicals like radon, air pollution and second hand smoke.
Signs and symptoms of lung cancer
Identifying lung cancer in its earliest stages can be difficult, as the signs and symptoms may be similar to those of a respiratory infection or there may be no symptoms at all.
Common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath with activity
- A persistent cough
- Coughing up blood
- Unexplained weight loss
- Chest pain
Early diagnosis saves lives. This is because lung cancer cells can travel to other parts of the body, usually the brain, before a doctor detects them in the lungs. Proper diagnosis is made through a combination of imaging studies including CT, MRI and PET scans. A lung biopsy is usually needed to determine the type of lung cancer.
Treatment for lung cancer can be tricky and depends on its location and stage. Treatment options for lung cancer have improved significantly in recent years and include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. The prognosis and outlook for lung cancer depends on the type of cancer and how far it has spread.
To supplement conventional treatment, nutritional support is important and the goal is to maintain a healthy weight and consume enough essential nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water).
How to manage your diet:
- Avoid non-nutritious foods and drinks like white sugar, sweet drinks and processed food containing artificial additives. These extricate nutrients from your body in order to metabolise, which leads to a nutrient deficiency.
- Eating enough protein makes some cancer treatments more effective. Eating quality protein sources like organic eggs, meat, dairy products and plant-based protein shakes, increases muscle mass and prevents wasting caused by cancer treatment. Limit protein sources high in saturated fat, such as fatty steaks and fried chicken, which increases inflammation; and choose lean red meat, skinless poultry and fish instead. The omega-3 fats in oily fish, such as salmon, lowers inflammation. Other nutritious protein sources include yogurt, beans and lentils.
- Add herbs and spices like turmeric, ginger and cinnamon to make food more appealing.
- Consume liquid or pureed meals if you are struggling to eat.
- Eat well cooked food. Cancer treatment affects the immune system and can lead to a greater risk of infection. Therefore, eat only well cooked food, drink pasteurised beverages and avoid anything raw.
- Plant derived fat from nuts, seeds, avocados and vegetable oils provide valuable essential nutrients, including healthy fats. These ingredients also provide nutritious, calorie-dense options if your appetite is diminished, which commonly affects people with lung tumours.
- Avoid food that is very hot or very cold.
- Do not lie down after eating.
- Consume at least 2.5 cup of vegetables and fruits daily to top up on nutrients and relieve constipation.
- The American Lung Association recommends bland foods to meet your energy needs when eating enough is difficult. If you're experiencing nausea, abdominal pain or diarrhoea, fibre-rich foods can make the symptoms worse. To minimise diarrhoea, replace fibre-rich foods like whole grains, pulses and legumes, with lower-fibre alternatives, such as rice, saltine crackers and pudding. Other mild-tasting, easily digestible foods include soup / broth, plain scrambled eggs and cooked fruit without the peel like applesauce.
- Limit sugar, caffeine, salt and alcohol intake.
Food that helps fight against lung cancer
In general, the rule for getting enough vitamins and minerals during cancer treatment is eating the right food. It has been seen that a plant-based diet rich in phytonutrients helps the body fight against cancer. The main objective is to be healthy as possible and inhibit the ability of the cancer cells to grow or spread.
The food listed below should part of the diet and consumed regularly in its natural form and not through supplements. Some supplements like beta carotene, may actually increase the risk of developing lung cancer or lower the effectiveness of cancer treatments.
Contains a phytochemical known as phloretin thought to have anti-tumour properties. From a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, pear also helps to nourish the lungs and to soothe irritation.
Green tea has been found to have a preventive role in the development of lung cancer and researchers have found that it may inhibit the growth of lung cancer cells.
Ginger contains a compound that may help prevent the development of cancer cells, and it also effectively reduces nausea and stimulates the appetite for people with lung cancer.
Turmeric contains Curcumin, which is a compound that inhibits the invasive ability of lung cancer cells; and has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immunity stimulatory properties. The American Cancer Society has stated that tests carried out on animals using turmeric have shown promising results.
Cooked tomatoes and tomato sauce containing Lycopene
A potent compound for both reducing the risk of cancer and fighting it, Lycopene may inhibit tumour, inhibit the division of cancer cells and therefore, the spread of the disease. It also has potent anti-inflammatory properties, which may slow down the progression of cancer.
Lung cancer is a serious and potentially deadly disease. The key is to educate yourself about your condition and take more control and play an active part during the treatment process. Always seek professional medical care and get the correct advice before embarking on a treatment plan.