There’s no conclusive evidence regarding the link between kidney cancer and diet. But studies have shown that the foods we eat and other health factors, such as whether you exercise, can contribute to the occurrence of some cancers. A healthy diet that includes appropriate portions of each food group is more important than ever when you’re dealing with a serious medical condition. If you’re looking to make healthier choices, consider these nutritional dos and don’ts when being treated for kidney cancer.
Do: Eat a variety of healthful foods.A sensible diet is important for everyone, especially people who have kidney cancer. Healthful foods will help your body regenerate normal tissues, prevent infection, and maintain the strength and energy you’ll need to fight the cancer. Well-balanced diets include lots of fruits and veggies, as well as whole grains, and usually a limited amount of red meat. The specific foods you need depend on your treatment plan and stage of cancer, so talk to your doctor or a dietitian for recommendations.
Don’t: Drink too much water and other fluids.Your kidneys make urine, which helps control the amount of fluid in your body. With kidney cancer, your kidney function isn’t optimal, and your body might not make the proper amount of urine. Too much fluid can cause swelling, high blood pressure, and shortness of breath. So be sure to stay hydrated; just don’t overdo it.
Do: Pay attention to the protein you eat.A diet high in animal proteins—rather than plant proteins—may be linked to kidney cancer, although there is no conclusive evidence about whether it’s a risk factor. You do need protein in your diet to maintain muscle mass, but be aware of how much of it you eat. Your kidneys filter the waste out of your body, but that waste can build up in your bloodstream when your kidneys aren’t functioning normally. So, ask your doctor how much animal protein is recommended for your situation.
Don’t: Consume too much salt.Salt should be used in limited amounts for any diet, but that’s especially true for people with kidney cancer or who have had a kidney removed (a nephrectomy). Sodium can cause high blood pressure, which intensifies kidney problems. So, try to find other seasonings you like besides salt, such as herbs or lemon juice. Also stay away from processed snacks and meats, canned foods, and fast food, all of which can contain a lot of sodium.
Do: Monitor the amount of phosphorus in your diet.You can still enjoy seeds, nuts and beans—which are all high in phosphorus—but pay attention to how much you eat. Phosphorus, which is a chemical element, can build up in your bloodstream when your kidneys don’t work at full capacity, which can lead to itchiness and joint pain. If you notice these symptoms, talk with your doctor to see whether phosphorus could be the problem. If so, you might need to cut back on these foods and possibly even on diary and meats, which have moderate amounts of phosphorus.
Don’t: Be afraid to have alcohol in moderation. Some studies have shown that moderate consumption of alcoholic drinks may actually protect against kidney cancer. Although drinking too much is never a healthy choice, having an adult beverage is usually safe even if you’ve had a nephrectomy. However, be sure to talk to your doctor about including any amount of alcohol in your diet to make sure it won’t interfere with your kidney cancer treatment.
Do: Consider taking supplements.Talk with your doctor about whether your well-balanced diet is nutritious enough for you and gentle enough for your kidneys. Your doctor might recommend a prescription for vitamins and minerals to supplement your diet. Supplements aren’t always necessary, though, so talk with your doctor before stocking up at the drugstore.
Do: Eat smaller meals throughout the day.This isn’t a requirement with kidney cancer, but it may help some people get the nutrition they need without creating any additional gastrointestinal distress. Kidney cancer treatments can cause nausea, diarrhea and constipation, so you may need to adjust how and when you eat, not just what you eat. Instead of large meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner, try smaller portions every few hours to see whether it helps you feel better.
Don’t: Think all diseases come with the same food recommendations.As you investigate diet plans for kidney cancer, be careful that you aren’t reading nutrition recommendations for people with kidney disease. Kidney cancer—and the types of treatment that go along with it—may call for a very different nutrition plan than kidney disease. The same goes for kidney cancer vs. other types of cancer. Diet recommendations can be different for every condition, so make sure you’re looking at nutrition information specifically for kidney cancer.
Do: Ask a dietitian if you need help.Because kidney cancer can cause weight loss, nausea, diarrhea, and constipation, you might need help finding foods that provide the nutrition you need without making you feel sick. Treatment might even throw off your sense of taste, making some foods unappealing. Find a registered dietitian to help you map out a nutritional plan customized for your needs. He or she will be able to keep your plan on track and make adjustments as needed throughout your kidney cancer treatment.
Don’t: Give up on exercise.You might feel significant fatigue when you’re undergoing kidney cancer treatment or if you’ve just had surgery to remove all or part of a kidney. Even so, it’s important to get some exercise. Talk with your doctor about the type of workout that’s best for you. With a plan, you’ll get the exercise you need without overexerting yourself.