What is weight loss?
Patients undergoing cancer treatment may have difficulty maintaining weight. Not only does this affect energy levels, it also signifies an inadequate nutrient supply to support normal cellular processes, leading to possible symptoms that affect quality of life and require treatment interruptions. An integrative approach to addressing weight loss may alleviate multiple symptoms. Patients may experience a number of symptoms that may lead to decreased caloric intake and, ultimately, weight loss, including:
- Digestive issues
- Difficulty chewing and swallowing
- Altered sense of taste and smell
- Loss of appetite
How likely are cancer patients to experience weight loss?
Research has shown that 80 percent of patients with upper-gastrointestinal cancer and 60 percent of lung cancer patients have already experienced a significant weight loss by the time they are diagnosed, according to the National Cancer Institute. Between 15 percent and 25 percent of all cancer patients experience a loss of appetite or desire to eat, often as a side effect of treatment.
How can integrative care help?
Several therapeutic interventions can help keep patients strong by providing the nutrients needed to tolerate and recover from treatment. A stronger body also heals more quickly and effectively.
A branch of health care that uses various therapies to treat the whole person, naturopathic medicine may address weight loss with a number of available tools. Naturopathic clinicians consult with the patient’s oncology medical team to support normal metabolism and digestion during cancer treatment. The team also collaborates on how best to manage potential side effects that can affect appetite and weight loss, such as nausea and mouth sores.
Several naturopathic medicine interventions may help with weight loss, including:
- Lifestyle counseling to help improve sleep
- Herbal and botanical preparations, such as herbal extracts and teas
- Dietary supplements that ease digestion
Dietitians may provide patients with tools and knowledge to help them maintain healthy nutritional intake before, during and after cancer treatment. Ingesting the proper amount of daily nutrients can provide these benefits:
- Support immune function
- Preserve lean body mass
- Rebuild body tissue
- Increase energy and strength
- Decrease risk of infection
- Improve quality of life
Dietitians may recommend changes to a patient’s diet to address weight loss, capitalizing especially on the caloric value of certain foods and working to see that nutrient needs are met. When nutrient needs cannot be met through food alone, dietitians may recommend vitamin, mineral and protein supplements specific to the patient’s needs. At Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), dietitians regularly collaborate with the culinary team to tailor food offerings to meet specific patient needs. Our first goal is to prevent malnutrition and help patients maintain a good nutritional balance throughout treatment.
Addressing muscle loss is as important in counteracting weight loss as adding calories. Oncology rehabilitation includes physical and occupational therapy techniques that may help patients build lean muscle mass, manage their weight and improve or restore mobility. Physical therapists can help patients build strength and endurance with an individualized exercise program that combines range-of-motion training with light-resistance exercises. Occupational therapists help patients build strength so they can continue daily activities that are important to quality of life, such as dressing, showering and eating.
The oncology rehabilitation team at CTCA® is also responsible for assessing the safety of eating, given a patient’s status and treatment regimen. This involves recommending foods and textures that can be swallowed without disruption, while also collaborating as a team on what types of foods can be ingested and digested, to address not just weight loss but malnutrition, too.