In this article, we are going to look at why lose weight with cancer?
Weight loss and cancer are closely linked. In fact, weight loss is one of the most common side-effects in people diagnosed with cancer. Although common, it’s not something that should be ignored as it can affect treatment and recovery.
Most people with cancer experience weight changes, muscle loss and fatigue (extreme tiredness) at some point during their treatment.
Managing these symptoms can help you feel better and allow you to continue with more of your usual activities. This may also help you keep your strength up, which can help you finish your full course of treatment.
One cause is cancer itself.
For example, in an effort to fight cancer, the body produces substances called cytokines. These substances can lead to weight loss, muscle loss, and a decrease in appetite.
How to cope with cancer-related weight changes and muscle loss – Why Lose Weight with Cancer?
Cancer patients usually face weight loss, muscle loss, or fatigue. This helps to improve your mood and can help you carry on your usual activities more frequently. It may also help to keep your power up and make it easier to complete your entire treatment program.
Why Do Weight And Muscle Loss Happen? – Why Lose Weight with Cancer?
One cause is cancer itself. For example, in an effort to fight cancer, the body produces substances called cytokines. These substances can lead to weight loss, muscle loss, and a decrease in appetite. Another common cause is the treatments for cancer. Radiation and chemotherapy often cause a decrease in appetite. They can also lead to side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and mouth sores, which can affect your ability to eat normally, further contributing to weight and muscle loss. Fatigue is also a factor, since the decreases in exercise and other physical activities that happen when you’re not feeling well can contribute to muscle loss. For more information on treatment side effects like fatigue and mouth sores, read CancerCare’s booklet titled “Understanding and Managing Chemotherapy Side Effects.”
How Are Weight Changes And Muscle Loss Treated? – Why Lose Weight with Cancer?
As with any side effect experienced during treatment, it’s important to talk to your health care team to decide what’s best for you. To help manage these symptoms, your health care team may prescribe medicines like anti-nausea medications and steroid medications. These drugs can increase appetite for some people and may help to prevent weight and muscle loss, but they do not build up lost muscle tissue.
Keep in mind that appetite and energy levels may be affected by other treatable conditions, such as pain, anxiety or depression. Talk with your doctor if you are experiencing any of these concerns.
What Can I Do to Help Maintain My Weight And Build Strength? – Why Lose Weight with Cancer?
Along with taking any medicines your doctor prescribes, there are many things you can do to help your body stay strong. Good, balanced nutrition and proper hydration are very important:
• Eat a balanced diet, and be sure to include protein to protect lean body mass. Beef, pork, poultry, tofu and soy nuts are excellent sources of protein. So are dairy products – try some Greek yogurt, which is higher in protein than regular yogurt.
• Increase the number of calories you eat. Choose nutritious foods that you enjoy. If appetite is a problem, try eating smaller, more frequent meals; make milkshakes, smoothies, and purees, which may be easier to digest; and add milk or protein powder to your foods.
• Drink plenty of liquids throughout the day. Water is best, but you can also get fluids from soups, popsicles and sports drinks.
• Keep a journal. Keeping details of the side effects that you experience will help your health care team. Having a health care journal or notebook will allow you to keep all of your health information in one place. If you are experiencing constipation, it may be helpful to keep a journal detailing:
- Physical activities you do and how they affect your mood and energy level
- Your diet
- Fluid intake and type of fluid
- Medications you’re currently taking
Physical exercise also plays a key role in building new muscle and decreasing fatigue. It has also been shown to improve one’s mood, outlook, and self-image.
• Start off slowly. If you are very weak or tired, start with 3 or 4 minutes of walking at a time and build up from there. You can also try some upper body exercises while sitting in a chair – moving your arms up and down and front to back can help maintain flexibility. Making a fist and lifting your arms up and down in front of you can increase strength.
• Pay attention to your breathing. Rounded shoulders restrict chest movement, but good posture helps your breathing and reduces fatigue. Focus on maximizing your breath during activities: for example, when climbing stairs, breathe out with each step so you won’t be as tired when you reach the top.
Get Help: Your Doctor Is Only The Beginning – Why Lose Weight with Cancer?
Professional oncology social workers at CancerCare understand the complex issues that arise with a cancer diagnosis. Social workers can help you manage any emotional or practical concerns that may be causing symptoms and help you develop ways to cope. CancerCare’s professional oncology social workers help anyone affected by cancer, free of charge.To speak with a professional oncology social worker, call 800-813-HOPE (4673).
Do you always lose weight with cancer? – Why Lose Weight with Cancer?
Between 30% and 80% of patients may lose weight at some point during their disease, depending on the site of the tumor1. Worryingly, malnutrition is considered the cause of between 20% and 40% of all cancer-related deaths3.
Why do you lose weight with cancer? – Why Lose Weight with Cancer?
There are lots of reasons why patients lose weight when they have cancer. Before diagnosis, unexplained weight loss may be an early sign that something is wrong, particularly in cancers affecting the lungs, pancreas, stomach or oesophagus4. This is caused by the body releasing substances called cytokines, which help fight the disease but also have the unfortunate side effect of causing weight loss and muscle loss, as well as a loss of appetite5.
Before and especially during treatment (e.g. chemotherapy, radiotherapy), a person may not feel like eating or drinking because of a lack of appetite or because of mouth ulcers, a dry mouth, constipation, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, taste changes or pain.
Treatment can also negatively affect how well the body absorbs and uses the nutrients it gets from food5, further worsening weight loss.
Although weight loss is common in cancer, eating less can mean the body may not get the energy, protein and other nutrients it needs at a time when it needs to be at its strongest to undergo treatment. It should therefore not be ignored.
What is cancer cachexia?
Losing weight can be seen as a good thing, especially for those who have always struggled to manage their weight – but when undergoing cancer treatment is not the right time. This is because when cancer patients lose weight, they mostly lose the strong, protective muscle tissue needed to help fight cancer, rather than fat tissue6. This loss of muscle tissue (or ‘lean body mass’) is known as cachexia6. Cachexia can lead to mental and physical tiredness but also, perhaps more importantly, can lower a patient’s tolerance to their treatment which could negatively affect their chances of survival1,6.
How does a patient’s body mass index affect treatment success?
The optimal chemotherapy dose for a patient is based on, amongst other factors, weight and height, also known as body mass index (BMI). Any changes in a patient’s weight from when they were first diagnosed can have a direct and negative impact as the patient may no longer be able to tolerate the full dose; more seriously, a significant reduction in BMI could delay treatment altogether7-9. By maintaining good nutritional intake, patients can help reduce the risk of losing additional muscle weight in the future, helping to ensure the body can tolerate the optimum treatment dose.
What nutrients are most important in cancer?
Good nutrition is all about getting the balance right – the balance of nutrients that a patient’s body needs to function well, to cope with treatment and to keep as active as possible. However, in cancer, some nutrients are particularly important:
- Protein: important for building and repairing body cells, getting enough protein is important for cancer patients wanting to maintain or regain lean body mass. International guidelines recommend cancer patients consume almost twice the amount that a healthy person needs (>1g of protein/kg of body weight and preferably 1.5g/kg vs 0.75g/kg for the general healthy population)10
- Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: with anti-inflammatory properties, this nutrient can help stabilize or improve appetite, food intake, lean body mass and body weight10
- Micronutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and trace elements: cancer patients often have micronutrient deficiencies due both to reduced food intake and the aggressive nature of some treatments11,12
- Dietary fibre: essential to a balanced diet, cancer patients can benefit from consuming the right quality of fibre to improve stool consistency, especially those who are suffering from diarrhoea as a side effect of their radiotherapy or chemotherapy13
What to do if you are struggling to eat or losing weight?
If a cancer patient is struggling to eat and drink, has lost weight unintentionally, or has concerns about their diet, they should talk to their healthcare professional. It is important to remember that they don’t need to wait to be asked about their concerns. It is ok to start the conversation with the oncologist and the supporting healthcare team.
Medical nutrition is important to keep the body strong
If after dietary counselling by a qualified healthcare professional a patient is still struggling to eat and drink and/or maintain weight, they may be advised to start taking medical nutrition supplements, also known as oral nutritional supplements (ONS). Medical nutrition (or ONS) are specially designed foods and drinks that help people with disease-related malnutrition meet their nutritional needs, providing the extra energy, protein, vitamins and minerals they need. They are known as ‘foods for special medical purposes’ and should be used under medical supervision.
Medical nutrition, particularly if given to patients early in their cancer journey, has been clinically proven to reduce weight loss. This is important to continue cancer therapy and is therefore related to better treatment outcomes14. Medical nutrition is available in a range of flavours and formats including milkshakes, juice style, yoghurt style, powders and desserts.
Is losing weight with cancer a bad sign?
Unexplained rapid weight loss can be a sign of cancer or other health problems. The Mayo Clinic recommends that you see your doctor if you lose more than 5 percent of your total body weight in six months to a year04-Feb-2019
Do you always lose weight with cancer?
Between 30% and 80% of patients may lose weight at some point during their disease, depending on the site of the tumor. Worryingly, malnutrition is considered the cause of between 20% and 40% of all cancer-related deaths.