This section has been reviewed and approved by the PLWC Editorial
Weight loss is common among people with cancer and is often the first
sign of cancer that is noticeable. As many as 40% of people with cancer
report unexplained weight loss at the time of diagnosis, and up to 80% of
people with advanced cancer experience weight loss and general
"wasting," called cachexia. Weight
loss is more common in people with solid tumors than in people with blood
Weight loss is associated with extreme tiredness (fatigue), weakness,
loss of energy, and an inability to perform everyday tasks. People
experiencing cachexia often cannot tolerate
treatments as well and may experience more intense symptoms.
Weight loss often begins when a person stops eating (called anorexia). In
addition, cancer can cause changes to the immune system or metabolism
that can result in weight loss and appetite loss. Nausea and
vomiting, constipation, mouth sores, difficulty
swallowing, loss of taste, and depression may also affect
a person's appetite and cause weight loss.
Controlling cancer-related weight loss is important for the comfort and
well-being of a person with cancer. The following suggestions may help:
- Increase food intake by
about 450 calories per day.
- Consider asking the doctor
about receiving food directly to the stomach through a tube, which
may help people with head and neck or esophageal cancers.
- Eat light meals and
avoid protein-rich foods before cancer treatment to help prevent
aversions to these foods.
Nutrients given through an intravenous (IV) tube are not
usually recommended, except in cases where a person is expected to
recover and requires short-term nutritional support.
Doctors may recommend the following medications:
- Megestrol acetate (Megace) is a progesterone hormone that can
improve appetite, help with weight gain, and increase a person's
sense of well-being.
- Steroid medications can
increase a person's appetite; improve his or her sense of
well-being; and may help with nausea, weakness, or pain. Because of
serious side effects, steroids should not be used for more than a
- Metoclopramide (Reglan)
can prevent early satiety (feeling full without eating).
- Pancreatic enzyme
replacement (lipase) helps the body absorb fat.