In a study published in 2011 of pleural mesothelioma patients, 30% presented with unexplained weight loss. Losing weight for no reason can be a presenting symptom for different cancers. During a patient’s journey with cancer most all patients lose weight at some point. Some lose before and during treatment.
We know how difficult it is to balance having cancer and maintaining good nutrition. Often when one does not feel well the last think they may want to do is eat. Cancer treatments can affect the ability to taste and smell, thus limiting one’s appetite and their ability to eat enough calories and nutrients. Anorexia, the loss of appetite or desire to eat, is the most common symptom patients have. Cachexia is the term used to describe a metabolic disorder that affects as many as 80% of patients with advanced cancer. It involves extreme weight and muscle loss. The addition of more calories does not reverse cachexia. It affects patients in the late stages of many chronic illnesses such as heart failure, COPD, and kidney disease. Cachexia is being studied and different drug trials are being used in the hopes of reversing this condition. Cachexia is devastating to the patient and their loved ones as it is a constant reminder of how sick they are.
Eating healthy and including vegetables and fruits in a diet is not always the most appetizing when one is undergoing cancer treatment. Sometimes any calories are good calories during cancer treatments. If one is striving to maintain a healthy weight, high calorie foods can be your best defense.
Today while speaking with a patient, Mrs. P. who is undergoing radiation, she explained that she gets weighed once a week and to her surprise, she had lost 2 pounds. She knew in the past she had not been the healthiest eater, but thought she had been doing a good job with her nutrition as of late. Mrs. P. felt disappointed in herself, but she is 3 weeks into radiation and “not giving up.” The side effects of weight loss can include feeling physically weak and having the inability to keep up with daily activities. If you are already underweight this can be dangerous territory, especially psychologically. Therefore it is important that you are maintaining a healthy weight because you will feel good about yourself and in turn, better about your treatments.
Everyone’s diet will be unique depending on their diagnosis and individual needs. If you are currently in the middle of treatment, it is best to seek out a dietician. There are resources for patients seeking help. Consult your doctor for a recommendation.
Nutrition is a very important component in fighting cancers, including mesothelioma. As stated before, high calorie foods, along with protein nutritional supplements like Ensure or Boost can add calories to your diet. If you choose Ensure or Boost think about adding ice cream to it. If pain is an issue, take your prescribed medicine and then try to eat. If nausea is the culprit, medicate yourself before it becomes a major issue. Maintaining a healthy weight is going to require work. The goal is to not let the weight loss get ahead of you.