By Connie Giordano Ziembicki, MHSc, RD, Registered Dietitian, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that starts in the melanocytes (the cells that give your skin its colour). Knowing what to eat and drink when being treated for
melanoma can help you cope with the side effects of treatment. Eating a balanced diet when being treated for melanoma can help you:
- Avoid losing or gaining too much weight
- Lower your risk of getting an infection
- Keep up your strength and energy
- Heal and recover wounds, and
- Feel better
Keep reading for tips on what you can eat and drink to help you stay safe and heal after treatment.
Know What to Eat and Drink During Melanoma Treatment
Stay hydrated (have enough water in your body)
It is important to drink fluids and stay hydrated during treatment. Becoming dehydrated (not having enough water in your body) can lead to fatigue, light-headedness and nausea (feeling of having to throw up).
Fluids help to flush your kidneys when you are taking medication. Flushing your kidneys prevents the medication from causing damage.
- Stay hydrated by including fluids in your diet (like water, soups, juices, milk, and soy drinks)
- Try to drink 6-8 cups (1½-2 litres) of fluid each day.
- Eat foods with a lot of water in them (like Jell-O®, puddings, sherbet and popsicles)
Eat and Drink Protein
Protein is an important part of your diet. Protein helps your immune system fight infections. Protein also helps your body heal and strengthen your muscles.
Foods that are high in protein include:
- Meat, poultry, fish, canned tuna or salmon, eggs
- Cheese, yogurt, pudding
- Nut butters (like peanut butter or almond butter), nuts, seeds
- Lentils and chick peas (legumes)
- Milk, tofu, or soy beverages
- Skim milk powder, whey protein powder, pea protein powder
The amount of protein you need depends on your height, weight, activity levels, and the type of treatment you are on. Speak to a registered dietitian to find out how much protein is the right amount for you.
If you are struggling to eat, try nutritional supplements such as Ensure®, Boost®, Carnation Breakfast Essentials®, or store brands to help make sure you get enough nutrients. Drink nutritional supplements between meals. If they are too sweet, mix them with milk or water, or add in a few ice cubes.
Learn How to Cope With Treatment Side Effects
- If food has no taste, try adding different herbs (like basil or rosemary) or sauces (like ketchup, barbecue sauce, mustard, or salsa).
- If your food has a metallic taste, add orange, lime, or lemon juice to food or water.
- If food tastes salty or bitter, add sugar to change the taste.
- Tone down overly sweet or acidic taste by adding salt.
Diarrhea (loose or watery poop)
- Choose food and drinks low in fibre, fat, lactose, caffeine, spices and sugar alcohols.
- Try to drink at least 8 cups (2 litres) of fluid each day to prevent dehydration.
- Drink water, diluted juices, caffeine-free soft drinks like ginger ale, weak tea or caffeine-free tea/coffee (not peppermint tea)
- Include Jello®, clear broths and popsicles.
- Switch to low lactose milk or soy beverages instead of regular milk.
- Avoid sugar free candy, chewing gums, cookies and bars that contain sugar alcohols like xylitol, mannitol, sorbitol and isomalt.
- Eat small, frequent meals and snacks. Try to eat every 2-3 hours.
Low or No Appetite
- Try to eat the most when you feel the hungriest. For example, you may want to make breakfast your main meal if you are hungriest in the morning.
- Eat small frequent meals and snacks during the day.
- Have ready-to-eat snacks on hand (like cheese and crackers, ice cream, yogurt, muffins and nuts).
- Try to get back on a normal meal schedule, which will remind you that it’s time to eat.
- If food is not appealing, choose a liquid nutritional supplement at meal or snack time.
Nausea and Vomiting (throwing up)
- Try to avoid eating and drinking at the same time.
- Try to eat small meals often throughout the day. Not eating will make your nausea worse.
- Eat dry, starchy foods like crackers and toast to help settle your stomach.
- Choose foods that are served cold or at room temperature.
- Sit upright for an hour after eating. Lying down after eating can make nausea worse.
- Try sipping on peppermint tea to help settle your stomach.
Sore Mouth and Hard Time Swallowing
- Eat soups and very moist foods while you are having a hard time swallowing or experiencing sore mouth.
- Some people find it easier to drink thicker liquids like a milkshake or smoothie.
- Add extra gravy or sauces to meat, potatoes, rice or pasta to make them easier to swallow.
- Sip liquids with your meals to help you swallow.
- Try not to eat acidic and spicy foods as they may bother your mouth and throat.
If you would like to speak to a
registered dietitian, ask a member of your healthcare team for a referral. You can also find other helpful eating tips in “Goes Down Easy: Recipes to help you cope with the challenge of eating during cancer treatment”, a cookbook that was co-written by Princess Margaret Cancer Centre’s dietitians. You can borrow a copy of “Goes Down Easy” from the
Princess Margaret Patient & Family Library.