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The Importance of Hydration in Preventing and Recovering from Cancer

Dehydration occurs when the body is losing more fluids than it is taking in, with the result being a diminished ability for organs to carry out their normal functions. Being dehydrated means more than just losing fluid; it also means not having enough electrolytes, the minerals and ions that are carried in body fluids and that are so important for proper functioning of the body. Good hydration plays an important role in good health generally, but also in preventing cancer and in recovering comfortably from treatment for mesothelioma and other types of cancers.

Chemotherapy Causes Dehydration

Chemotherapy is a useful and often necessary treatment for mesothelioma and other types of cancer. It involves the administration of drugs that are toxic to cells and that cause them to die. They mostly target cancer cells, but these drugs actually target all fast-growing cells in the body, both cancerous and healthy. For this reason, chemotherapy causes a lot of serious and uncomfortable side effects.

Two common side effects of chemotherapy are vomiting and diarrhea. When these symptoms are not well controlled it can be easy to lose a lot of fluids and become dehydrated. Another way in which chemotherapy may trigger dehydration is by preventing you from taking in enough fluids. Drinking and eating can be painful because many patients get sores in their mouths from chemotherapy. This can lead to lower intake of fluids and dehydration as a result.

Consequences of Dehydration

Being dehydrated is uncomfortable, but it is also a serious health concern. Particularly for patients being treated for mesothelioma or other types of cancer, being dehydrated can lead to serious complications. Chronic dehydration, for instance, can take a big toll on the health of the kidneys and urinary tracts. It can lead to infections, the formation of painful stones, and even the failure of the kidneys.

Dehydration can also become life threatening in extreme situations. It can trigger a condition called hypovolemic shock, also known as low blood volume shock. This occurs when dehydration is severe enough to cause a very low blood volume. This in turn can cause a severe drop in blood pressure and oxygen levels that can be fatal. Another danger of dehydration is an imbalance of electrolytes.

The Importance of Electrolytes

Electrolytes are mineral ions, meaning minerals that have an electrical charge. They are dissolved in bodily fluids and are transported throughout the body where they play important roles in various functions of the body. Examples of electrolytes include potassium, sodium, magnesium, and calcium. You get electrolytes from your food and some of the fluids you drink.

Dehydration can cause an electrolyte imbalance, which can lead to a number of complications if not reversed. In cancer patients, a particular type of electrolyte imbalance is very serious: hypercalcemia. This is an excessive amount of calcium in the blood, and it can become an emergency situation. Hypercalcemia is a risk in cancer patients, particularly in lung cancer patients. Symptoms include vomiting, stomach pain, constipation, dry mouth, fatigue, lethargy, confusion,  irregular heartbeat, and coma.

Any general type of electrolyte imbalance in cancer patients may cause symptoms such as muscle spasms, weakness, confusion and lethargy, twitching muscles, numbness, changes in blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and convulsions. It may also cause nervous system and bone disorders and seizures.

Alkaline Water and Cancer

There are some proponents of drinking alkaline water to either treat or at least slow the growth of cancer by lowering the acidity of the body. There is no research to bear out that this works at all. Alkaline water is water that has a higher, or more basic, pH level. A neutral pH is 7 and the body when healthy is just a little more alkaline than that, around 7.4. The idea is that an acidic environment promotes the growth of cancer cells and tumors and alkaline water—with a pH around 8 or 9—can counteract that acidity.

The truth is that the pH of the body cannot be changed drastically by eating or drinking certain foods. It is well-designed to maintain a fairly constant pH level. While research is limited, alkaline water may help you stay better hydrated and it may even help with symptoms of acid reflux and other gastrointestinal issues. If you want to try drinking it, check with your doctor first. Too much could actually be harmful.

Signs of Dehydration

Dehydration may range from mild to severe, and it is important to note the signs so that it can be detected and managed early, before it becomes severe or leads to a dangerous imbalance of electrolytes. Some early signs of dehydration include dry mouth, thirst, dizziness, and weakness. The mouth may become so dry that it gets sticky and becomes difficult to talk or swallow food that is dry.

As the body gets more dehydrated, you can begin to see the effects in the skin. If you pinch your skin and it returns to normal quickly, you are hydrated. If the skin stays upright for several seconds before sinking back into a normal position, you are dehydrated. As the condition worsens, you may start to feel fatigued, urination may slow or stop, you may get a fever and get constipated, and your eyeballs may appear sunken.

Staying Hydrated During Treatment and Recovery

For cancer patients going through chemotherapy especially, it is important to monitor hydration and take steps to drink more fluids and avoid dehydration. Taking in more fluids is one of the most important things you can do to avoid or treat dehydration. If you have little appetite and drinks don’t go down easily, stick with water. Ice chips can be useful and are often easier for patients to use than drinking glasses of water

When eating, choose foods that contain water, like fruit, gelatin foods, soups, or popsicles. If you have signs of electrolyte imbalance, talk to your doctor about how to manage it. You may need a sports drink to replenish electrolytes. It is also important to manage the symptoms that are leading to dehydration. Talk to your doctor about how to manage any vomiting or diarrhea that your treatment causes.

The Role of Hydration in Cancer Prevention

Hydration is very important for mesothelioma and cancer patients because dehydration can be both uncomfortable and dangerous. It is also important to note that dehydration may actually play a role in the development of cancer. Studies have found that staying hydrated is important for overall health, but specifically for preventing chronic illnesses including cancer.

In one study, for instance, researchers looked at fluid intake in nearly 50,000 patients over ten years and found a strong correlation with bladder cancer. The greater a person’s fluid intake on a daily basis, the lower their risk was of developing bladder cancer. This has been found in other studies as well, and researchers think it may be related to exposing the bladder to more carcinogens. Another study found that adequate water intake was associated with a lower risk of colon cancer in men and women. The same was found in a study of breast cancer.

Fluid intake is important for staying hydrated, and avoiding electrolyte imbalances for all people. Dehydration can be particularly problematic for patients undergoing chemotherapy and recovering from mesothelioma and other types of cancer. It is important for doctors and patients to address dehydration, to try to avoid it, and to treat it if necessary. Most interesting of all may be how good hydration may reduce a person’s risk of developing cancer in the first place, another reason for everyone to be aware of and concerned with dehydration.

Page Edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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