The foods you eat supply essential nutrients to your body for energy. When cancer invades the body, food serves as nourishment to help you fight the disease. Certain foods such as fatty meat also can contribute to increased risk of cancer, especially in the case of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, according to the National Cancer Institute. Changes in dietary habits may be necessary to optimize your fight against lymphoma before, during and after treatment.
Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and Immune System
The lymphatic system, part of your immune system, produces, stores and carries white blood cells that fight infections and disease. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma results from malignant cell formation in the lymph system, and the presence of this cancer weakens your immune system. No specific cause is linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma development but your risk increases with existing autoimmune disease, exposure to toxins such as pesticides and inherited immune system disorder. Depending on your stage of cancer, treatment can involve radiation or chemotherapy, targeted therapy to attack cancer cells with drugs or antibody infusion, stem cell transplant and watchful waiting with changes in diet or lifestyle habits.
General Lymphoma Diet
Your physician may recommend healthier dietary habits to help you fight lymphoma. General changes include: increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables each day to five or more servings; replacing processed or refined grains with whole grains such as wheat bread, bran cereal or brown rice; and avoiding processed, fatty meats such as beef, pork and fried chicken. Consuming several small meals a day helps prevent malnourishment, which can further compromise your immune system. Consult your health care team for specific dietary recommendations.
During treatment, you may have to follow a specific diet to boost your immune system and prevent contraction of bacterial or viral infections. A neutropenic diet protects your immune system from harmful microorganism in foods and beverages. Your physician may recommend this type of diet after chemotherapy or stem cell transplantation. The neutropenic diet avoids all fresh produce, raw or rare meats, fish and eggs, non-pasteurized dairy or dairy containing probiotics. Foods to choose include breads without nuts, cooked rice and pasta, pasteurized cheese and milk, canned produce and well-done meat varieties. A neutropenic diet is short-term and should not be followed without physician monitoring.
If you are able to follow a basic healthy diet, add cancer-fighting fruits, vegetables and grains to daily meals or snacks. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, cancer-fighting foods stimulate your immune system and can prevent tumor spread. Choose several weekly servings of a variety of cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, greens, cauliflower and cabbage. Create mixed salads with tomatoes, leafy green lettuce, carrots, cucumber and red peppers. Eat fruit such as apples, apricots, cantaloupe or citrus as snacks in between meals. Add a side of brown rice, wheat pasta or oatmeal to your main entrees.
Although the exact cause of non-Hodgkin lymphoma is unknown, you can lower your risk with changes to your diet. According to a 2004 case-controlled study published in the "American Journal of Epidemiology," consuming a diet high in animal protein and saturated fat increases your risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma significantly. However, a diet high in produce and fiber reduces your risk of this form of cancer. The study was conducted on American women between the ages of 21 to 84 from 1995 to 2001. Research is ongoing as of 2011 to further replicate study results in men and diverse populations.