Common Weight-Related Side Effects of Cancer Treatments
Several common side effects of cancer treatment are related to your ability to maintain a healthy weight. You might experience anorexia, weight gain, or weight loss.
Anorexia is a sensation of not wanting to eat or even feeling repulsed by the thought of eating. This event may have many possible causes, including the administration of chemotherapy and other cancer drugs, nausea and vomiting, infection, persistent pain, emotional distress, excessive fatigue, and the effects of progressive cancer.
If you experience anorexia, you should discuss this with your physician as soon as possible. When anorexia remains unaddressed, it can lead to malnutrition, weight loss, muscle wasting, and an increased risk of death. In many cases, once a specific cause is identified (such as pain) and measures are taken to correct the problem, anorexia resolves.
Weight gain during treatment may be a favorable event, particularly if you were previously malnourished. But it may also be an undesirable effect of treatment, including certain chemotherapeutic agents, steroids, and hormone therapy, or may result from fluid retention or be caused by a lack of activity and/or excessive food intake.
A short-term gain in weight may not pose a problem, especially because nutritional demands are higher during intensive anticancer treatments. But excessive weight gain may pose a problem. Studies have shown that weight gain during cancer treatment can lead to a poor prognosis, particularly if you’re already overweight.
Gaining weight can also make it difficult to keep other conditions, such as diabetes, under control, which can further increase your risk of unfavorable outcomes.
If you’re experiencing unintentional weight gain, learn how to estimate your caloric needs to lose weight. While watching your calorie intake, also try to make sure you’re getting at least two and a half hours of moderate activity (like walking) on a weekly basis.
Weight loss may result from your treatment program, such as during recovery from surgery or from nausea and vomiting after chemotherapy. In these cases, weight loss generally isn’t considered a problem, unless it becomes pronounced.
But weight loss can also point to more serious issues, such as inadequate nutrition or cancer progression. As a result, it’s a good idea to keep tabs on your weight during and after treatment. Although your oncologist is likely to monitor your weight, you’ll be able to notice any weight loss more quickly if you weigh yourself at the same time daily or every few days.
You may want to make an appointment with a dietitian for an evaluation. If your treatment facility doesn’t have one, your oncologist should be able to make a recommendation, or you can visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Find a Registered Dietitian database, where you can search for dietitians in your area and by area of expertise.
You can also visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Oncology Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group website to find an oncology registered dietitian (RD) and RDs that are board certified in oncology nutrition.