Weight Loss in Cancer Patients

By  ,  National Institute of Health
Jan 13, 2013

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Weight Loss in Cancer Patients

What is it?

Weight loss is when you have a decrease in body weight.

Why it happens?

Weight loss can be caused by cancer itself, or by side effects of cancer treatment, such as nausea and vomiting. Stress and worry can also cause weight loss. Many people with cancer have weight loss during treatment.

Ways to manage with food

  • Eat when it is time to eat, rather than waiting until you feel hungry. You still need to eat even if you do not feel hungry while being treated for cancer.
  • Eat 5 or 6 small meals each day instead of 3 large meals. You may find it easier to eat smaller amounts at one time.
  • Eat foods that are high in protein and calories. You can also add protein and calories to other foods.
  • Drink milkshakes, smoothies, juices, or soups if you do not feel like eating solid foods. These can provide the protein, vitamins, and calories your body needs.
  • Cook with protein-fortified milk. You can use rotein-fortified milk (instead of regular milk) when cooking foods such as macaroni and cheese, pudding, cream sauce, mashed potatoes, cocoa, soups, or pancakes.

Other ways to manage

  1. Talk with a dietitian. He or she can give you ideas about how to maintain or regain your weight. This includes choosing foods that are high in protein and calories and adapting your favorite recipes.
  2. Be as active as you can. You might have more appetite if you take a short walk or do other light exercise. Studies show that many people with cancer feel better when they exercise each day.
  3. Think about tube feedings. Sometimes, you may not be able to eat enough to stay strong and a feeding tube may be a good option. Your doctor or dietitian will discuss this with you if he or she thinks it will help you.
  4. Tell your doctor if you are having eating problems, such as nausea, vomiting, or changes in how foods taste and smell. He or she can help control these so you can eat better.


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