New Health Guide

Why Do Cancer Patients Lose Weight?

Mar 26, 2018

People with cancer experience a number of problems, including weight loss. It affects different patients differently. Some experience profound weight loss, while other patients may experience progressive weight loss. Cancer patients experience a combination of muscle mass and body fat along with problems like reduced appetite, extreme weakness, and anemia. The syndrome is referred to as cancer cachexia and is more common with advanced cancer. The question is, why do cancer patients lose weight? Let's find out more about it.

Why You Lose Weight with Cancer?

Losing more than 5% of your body weight when you are not really trying to lose weight might be an early sign of cancer, which is why you should not ignore unexplained weight loss. What causes cancer-induced wasting syndrome or cancer cachexia is not clear. Cancer cells replicate exponentially and use up energy while replicating. It could be a possible explanation, but scientists fail to understand why pregnant women do not lose weight at such rapid pace because human fetus uses up energy more rapidly. It makes cancer specialists assume that the energy used by the tumor is not responsible for weight loss.

Experts also believe that cancer leads to changes in taste, which in turn can cause reduced appetite. It could play a role in weight loss, but researchers believe that reduced appetite alone cannot lead to such drastic changes in weight in cancer patients. Another theory suggests that cancer patients lose weight because of an increased energy use and a significant increase in the body's metabolism.

What Does Research Say?

Why do cancer patients lose weight? The latest research has offered some answers to this question. There are actually a number of factors at play. Scientists believe that cancer cells produce different substances, including MIC-1, which may be responsible for weight loss in cancer patients. MIC-1 is a type of protein found naturally in healthy people's blood, but people with cancer have large amounts of this protein, which in turn leads to a rapid loss of weight. MIC-1 induces weight loss by suppressing appetite. It is also found that cancer cells produce other substances, such as PIF that tell your body to break down fat and muscle.

Your body also increases the release of cytokines when you have cancer. These substances activate your immune system and send it into overdrive. These cytokines increase inflammation in the body and have a negative impact on your metabolism and hormones. A change in metabolism would again facilitate the process of fat loss, causing cancer patients to lose weight quickly.

Outside Factors

Why do cancer patients lose weights? In addition to the change in metabolism and hormones, some outside factors may also be responsible for triggering fat loss in cancer patients. Cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy, cause vomiting, nausea, pain, mouth sores, and change in taste, which can have a direct impact on your appetite.

Radiation therapy is designed to kill cancer cells, but it also damages healthy cells in the area being treated. It can damage the skin, blood cells, and intestines. Those damaged areas of the body would consume energy for recovery, which in turn would make you lose weight. People with cancer of intestines or stomach would lose weight rapidly because of their inability to digest food and absorb nutrients. Vomiting and diarrhea can also cause severe fatigue and lead to weight loss in cancer patients.

How to Cope with Weight Loss from Cancer

Irrespective of what causes muscle wasting in cancer patients, it is possible to lower the impact of treatment and side effects. Your cancer care team will work closely with you to ensure that your body weight stays within a healthy range. They may also prescribe medicines to deal with problems like nausea and vomiting. Sometimes, you need to take steroid medications for increased energy. You can also take some other steps to maintain a healthy weight and build strength. For instance:

  • Maintain a balanced diet. You need to pay special attention to your diet and ensure that you are eating enough protein every day. Increasing your protein intake may help protect body mass. You can opt for poultry, pork, beef, soy nuts, and tofu to get protein. Greek yogurt is another nice choice.
  • Increase your caloric intake. Your body will use up the energy to deal with cancer, so it makes sense to get more calories on a daily basis. Be sure to include highly nutritious foods in your diet. You may want to eat smaller meals more often to deal with reduced appetite. Try smoothies, milkshakes, and purees to get more calories in a healthy way.
  • Increase your intake of liquids. You should drink water and clear liquids as much as possible. Include popsicles, soups, and sports drinks in your diet to help prevent dehydration and increase energy at the same time.
  • Maintain a journal. It really helps to keep track of what you eat and how you feel after eating certain foods. You should also take note of any new side effects you may have developed during the treatment. Write down exactly how you feel after engaging in physical activities. You should keep track of your fluid intake and any medications you may be taking. Clear information about these things will help you make a better strategy to defeat cancer.
  • Include physical activity in your routine. You do not need to go overboard here because 5-10 minutes of short walk is usually enough to put you on the right track. You can build up over time depending on how tired or weak you feel during the treatment.
  • Practice deep breathing. You need to understand the importance of following correct breathing techniques. Do not let your shoulders drop because rounded shoulders make it difficult to breathe deep, which in turn would make you feel fatigued.