Symptoms & Side effects

Changes in Appetite

Changes in Food Intake

Cancer itself, or the side-effects of Cancer Treatment such as fatigue, Nausea or vomiting, pain, depression, and lethargy can bring down appetite in cancer patients. Lack of appetite often leads to malnutrition and weight loss. Cutting back on the intake of food can eventually affect a person’s quality of life and their ability to do routine activities. Hence, maintaining body weight is vital for enhancing physical strength and body functioning while getting treated for cancer.
However, there is no need to force yourself into eating as it might cause stomach ache or Nausea.

Causes of appetite loss

Appetite loss can be contributed by the following factors.

  • A tumor in or around the gastrointestinal tract can disturb the intake of food and cause difficulty in swallowing. Some cancers can secrete chemicals to instill a feeling of fullness in the stomach despite eating less.
  • Specific tumors can release hormones that can affect appetite.
  • Tumor pressure on organs, depression, stress, dry mouth, mouth sores, fatigue, nausea, constipation, bloating, and dehydration caused by cancer itself or cancer treatments can reduce the appetite of a person.
  • Patients might find eating or food off-putting due to altered taste buds or olfactory senses, caused by Surgery or cancer treatments.

How to manage the loss of appetite?

Here are a few integral approaches to manage the loss of appetite.

  • Instead of three large meals, eat six small meals throughout the day.
  • Stock up on high-calorie and nutrient-dense high-protein foods such as peanut butter, liquid nutritional supplements, cheese, puddings, granola bars, and Nuts.
  • Try to be as physically active (walking, cycling) as possible to help you feel hungry.
  • Peppermint, fennel, ginger, and catnip can stimulate your appetite.

Weight Gain

While some people lose weight, there are a few others who gain weight during Cancer Treatment. A slight increase in weight isn’t much of a problem, but a sudden and significant increase can be detrimental to a person’s health. Weight gain is experienced, especially by women battling Breast Cancer. An increase in weight can affect the chances of recovery.
Being overweight can aggravate the risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart problems.

Causes of weight gain

Several cancer treatments like Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy result in treatment side effects which may grow problematic for the patients if not attended to. Going through rounds of therapy sessions have their own set of problems in appetite and can pose drastic changes in weight. Some of the ways cancer treatments impact a patient’s weight are:

  • Causes the body to retain fluid, i.e., edema
  • Causes Fatigue and makes the patient inactive
  • Triggers food cravings
  • Brings down a person’s metabolism (rate by which the body converts food into energy)
  • Causes menopause (for some) which can affect the metabolism

Steroid medications, prescribed during Cancer Treatment for reducing pain, swelling, and to reduce Nausea and cancer symptoms can:

  • Increase in appetite
  • Increase in fatty tissues which causes fullness in a person’s face, neck, and abdomen
  • Muscle mass loss (wasting)
  • A visible increase in weight

Hormonal therapy employed for the treatment of prostate, uterine, testicular, and Breast Cancer involves administering medicines that cause the amount of progesterone and estrogen in women and the amount of testosterone in men to drop. A decrease in these specified hormone levels can subsequently decrease muscle, increase fat, and bring down the metabolism.

How to manage weight gain?

  • Include plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains in your meals.
  • Cut back on sugar, fat, and refined flour.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Exercising is the key to manage weight gain. Strength-building exercises can help build lost muscle but ask your doctor before trying out any physical activity.

If Stress or emotions are starting to affect your appetite, then trying a mind-body approach might be helpful. Cancer patients are advised to work towards their emotional wellness and being mindful towards what they eat or do during their treatment days poses a great impact on the results. Listening to one’s mind can work wonders towards recovery. Apart from these integral therapies, consider consulting your oncologist to help you identify the right diet or exercise strategy to ease your situation.