Abnormal weight loss

What is abnormal weight loss?
Weight loss

Abnormal weight loss is common among cancer patients. It may be the first visible sign of the disease. In fact, 40% of people had unexplained weight loss when they were first diagnosed with cancer. It is different when associated with cancer.

Doctors refer to a weight loss syndrome called “cachexia,” which is characterized by increased metabolism, loss of skeletal muscle, fatigue, anorexia, and decreased quality of life. Cachexia is common in patients with incurable cancer.

How bad is my weight loss?

Mild: 5 to <10% from baseline; intervention not indicated

Moderate: 10 – <20% from baseline; nutritional support indicated

Severe: More than 20% decrease from baseline; tube feeding or TPN indicated

How to manage mild abnormal weight loss?
  • Increase the frequency of the food you eat. Eat frequent small meals throughout the day. For example, eating small amounts every 3 hours may be a more successful strategy to increasing your food intake.
  • Consider consulting a registered dietitian (RD) or nutritionist for nutrition counseling. It will help you to maintain a healthy weight and get the important nutrients you need. Ask your health care team for a referral.
  • Prior to chemotherapy, eat light meals and avoid fatty or protein-rich foods. This may prevent developing a dislike of these foods if nausea or vomiting occurs.
  • Keep a record of what, when, and how much you eat, including how you feel during and after eating. For example, do you have nausea? Feel full quickly? Notice changes in taste? Sharing this information with your health care team may help with decisions about changing your diet.
How to manage moderate and severe abnormal weight loss?

Consult the physician if you have lost more than 5 percent of body weight or 10 pounds without trying in a period of 6 to 12 months. It is especially important if you have other symptoms (appetite loss (anorexia), pain, constipation) too.

What are the causes?

Abnormal weight loss often starts with appetite loss or anorexia. Underlying cancer and cancer treatment-related side effects that may cause appetite loss.

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