Many cancer patients lose weight during care. This makes it harder for their bodies to withstand the powerful treatments needed to fight the disease. Fortunately, there are steps patients can take to address the causes of cancer-related weight loss.
Cancer mouth sores and throat sores
Mouth and throat sores are the most common cause of cancer weight loss.
These sores are caused by chemotherapy drugs, which fight cancer by attacking rapidly dividing cells. Unfortunately, healthy cells that are supposed to divide rapidly are impacted by the treatment. These include cells that line the mouth and throat. As a result, many patients on chemotherapy develop painful sores in these areas, making it harder for them to eat.
Patients with mouth and throat sores should gargle four times a day with a mix of one tablespoon of salt and one tablespoon of baking soda in one cup of water. This rinse offers pain relief and helps prevent sores by cleaning the mouth.
Prescription mouthwashes that sooth the pain of these sores (but don’t prevent them) are also available.
Cancer and appetite loss
In some cases, chemotherapy affects a person’s appetite and sense of taste, making food unappealing. Even if they don’t want to eat, these patients should approach eating as a key part of their care and eat as much as they are able. If needed, they can be given medicines that actually increase their appetite.
Chemotherapy can also cause nausea, leaving patients less likely to eat. Fortunately, most patients’ nausea can be controlled with medication.
For some patients, appetite loss is caused by stress, anxiety, depression or similar factors. In these situations, patients should talk to their care teams about what they’re feeling. There are many ways to help patients manage these emotions, including medication, counseling and stress-management techniques.
Cancer and feeding tubes
Sometimes, patients are simply unable to maintain their weight, no matter how hard they try to eat or what steps they take to keep their weight up. This most often occurs in patients with advanced cancer. In these situations, patients may be given a feeding tube to supply them with calories and nutrients.