Is unexplained weight loss indicative of cancer?

Cancer and weight loss are tightly related. As a matter of fact, one of the most prevalent side effects among cancer patients is weight loss. Even though it’s common, treatment and recovery may be impacted, therefore it shouldn’t be disregarded.

Unexpected weight loss is frequently linked to cancer. Even if inadvertent weight loss may indicate the presence of cancer, inexplicable weight loss can also have other causes.

Does cancer always cause you to lose weight?

Depending on where the tumour is located, between 30% and 80% of patients may experience weight loss at some time throughout their illness. It is concerning to note that between 20% and 40% of cancer-related fatalities are thought to be caused by malnutrition.

Why does cancer cause weight loss?

Patients with cancer often lose weight for a variety of reasons. Unexpected weight loss may indicate a problem before a diagnosis is made, especially in cases of cancer affecting the stomach, oesophagus, pancreas, or lungs. This results from the body releasing chemicals known as cytokines, which aid in the illness’s fight but also have the unfavourable side effect of making people lose weight and muscle mass as well as their appetite.

A person may not feel like eating or drinking before, or especially during, treatment (such as chemotherapy or radiation), due to a loss of appetite, mouth ulcers, dry mouth, constipation, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, altered tastes, or pain.

Treatment may also impair the body’s ability to use and absorb nutrients from diet, which can exacerbate weight loss.

Even while losing weight is normal in cancer patients, eating less can have negative effects on the body’s ability to absorb energy, protein, and other nutrients when the body needs them most to be at its strongest for treatment. Thus, it shouldn’t be disregarded.

What is cachexia due to cancer?

Losing weight might be beneficial, particularly for people who have always had trouble controlling their weight, but it is not the appropriate time to do it while receiving cancer treatment. This is due to the fact that, rather than fat tissue, cancer patients who lose weight typically lose the robust, protective muscle tissue required to aid in the battle against cancer. Cachexia refers to this decrease of muscular mass, also referred to as “lean body mass.” Perhaps more significantly, cachexia can reduce a patient’s tolerance to their treatment, which may have a detrimental impact on their chances of survival, in addition to causing physical and emotional exhaustion.

What impact does a patient’s BMI have on the outcome of their treatment?

Body mass index (BMI), which is derived from a patient’s weight and height, is one of the criteria used to determine the ideal dosage of chemotherapy. Any weight changes since the patient’s initial diagnosis can have a direct and detrimental effect because the patient might not be able to tolerate the entire dosage; more dangerously, a large BMI decrease could cause the patient to stop therapy entirely. Patients can lessen their chance of future muscle loss by continuing to consume a healthy diet, which will aid to guarantee that their bodies can withstand the recommended therapy dosage.

Which nutrients are most crucial for cancer patients?

The key to good nutrition is finding the proper balance of nutrients, which a patient’s body requires to operate normally, tolerate therapy, and maintain maximum activity. Nonetheless, several nutrients are especially crucial in cancer:

Protein: necessary for the growth and repair of bodily cells, cancer patients who wish to preserve or restore lean body mass must consume an adequate amount of protein. International guidelines suggest that cancer patients should take nearly twice as much protein per kilogramme of body weight as a healthy person (>1g/kg and preferably 1.5g/kg vs 0.75g/kg for the overall healthy population).Ten Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: these nutrients have anti-inflammatory qualities and can help regulate or enhance hunger, food intake, lean body mass, and body weight.

Micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and trace elements: Cancer patients frequently suffer from deficiencies in these nutrients as a result of their diet restrictions and the harshness of their treatments.

Dietary fibre: an important component of a healthy diet, cancer patients can improve the regularity of their stools by taking the proper kind of fibre, particularly if they are experiencing diarrhoea as a side effect of chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

What should you do if you find it difficult to eat or to reduce weight?

A cancer patient should consult their healthcare provider if they are having trouble eating or drinking, have inadvertently lost weight, or have questions regarding their diet. It’s crucial to keep in mind that they can voice their concerns at any time. It’s acceptable to strike up a discussion with the oncologist and the accompanying medical staff.

Maintaining the body’s strength requires medical nutrition

In the event that a patient still experiences difficulties with eating, drinking, and/or maintaining weight following dietary advice from a licenced healthcare provider, they may be recommended to begin taking medical nutrition supplements, also referred to as oral nutritional supplements (ONS). Specially formulated foods and beverages known as medical nutrition, or ONS, enable individuals suffering from disease-related malnutrition fulfil their nutritional requirements by giving them the additional energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals they require. They should be used under medical supervision and are referred to as “foods for special medical purposes.”

Clinical research has demonstrated that medical nutrition inhibits weight loss, especially when administered to patients in the early stages of their cancer journey. This is linked to improved treatment results and is crucial for the continuation of cancer therapy. A variety of tastes and styles, such as milkshakes, juices, yoghurts, powders, and desserts, are available for medical nutrition.

Dr. Ashish Goel has 25 years experience in oncology and oncosurgery. He is the best cancer surgeon and oncologist in Noida, Delhi, NCR. He has a keen interest in Breast Oncology, Head and Neck Surgery and Thoracic Oncology. He is equally trained in treating Gastrointestinal, Genitourinary and Gynaecological cancers. Dr Goel is currently Director and HoD Surgical Oncology at Jaypee Hospital, Noida.