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Why Do Cancer Patients Lose Weight?

Why Do Cancer Patients Lose Weight?

During treatment, many cancer patients question why they lose weight throughout the process. This is very common, but If you lose more than 3 pounds within one week, you should report it to your physician. Weight loss can be attributed to the cancer itself and the treatment you are receiving.

In an attempt to fight the cancer cells, the body produces cytokines, which can lead to a loss of appetite and muscle mass, leading to weight loss. Treatments like radiation and chemotherapy are commonly known to cause a loss of appetite for cancer patients. Other times, a patient may seem to be eating enough, yet can still lose weight.

Why Do Cancer Patients Lose Weight?

Weight loss in cancer patients can be a result of the cancer itself or nutrition-related side effects that affect your food intake, such as nausea, taste changes, and decreased appetite. For many patients, the type of cancer and treatment make it hard for them to eat well enough to take in all the calories required to maintain a healthy weight. However, certain types of treatment options can cause the body to retain fluids or increase a patient’s appetite so that they eat more, causing weight gain. These treatments include certain types of:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Medicines such as steroids

The leading causes of involuntary weight loss are depression (especially in residents of long-term care facilities), cardiac disorders, and benign gastrointestinal diseases. A common concern for caregivers and patients alike is how to promote weight gain in a healthy way. During and after cancer treatment, it is important to provide your body with adequate nutrients like protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Weight loss during treatment is linked to:

  • Increased rate of hospitalizations
  • Delays in treatment
  • Malnutrition

How Do You Prevent Cancer Patients from Losing Weight?

Malnutrition is common in people with cancer and occurs when there’s an imbalance of energy, protein, or other nutrients. Adding extra protein, fatsfats, and fluidssugar at mealtimes, or nutritional supplements, may help maintain weight. A patient’s doctor or dietitian can help with dietary advice. It is important to eat well, even when you have no appetite. A loss of appetite may occur as a result of a condition called “cachexia,” or a metabolic change caused by the cancer itself or, which can also be affected by cancer treatments. If left unchecked, appetite loss may lead to serious weight loss and wasting of muscle marked by loss of strength, as well as compromised immune function. Malnutrition can reduce a patient’s strength, function, and quality of life.


Cancer Related Weight Changes and Muscle Loss

Eating Problems | Weight Changes


  • MIchaelyn says:

    Not sure if this is the place to post this question… but I have head that if someone is losing weight (not on purpose), they may have cancer. So, I have a long time friend, who had cancer of the tongue, and had surgery., No chemo or radiation, that I am aware of. So it’s been a couple years…. she still continues to drink alcohol (she may be an alcoholic like her siblings) which she denies….. But now, she is losing weight. Her husband said she has no appetite… I am afraid that her cancer may have gone somewhere else. (She currently has a stricture of her throat, and if she doesn’t chew her food well, it get’s caught.). So that in itself, could be a reason for losing weight… But I don’t think so… She simply isn’t eating… has no appetite, for example for lunch. Dinner is a ‘big” happy hour with significant amount of alcohol, and snacks…. Don’t know if I need to approach the husband to raise awareness of her weight loss. What do you think?

    • Cancer Treatment Expert says:


      We are sorry to hear that your friend is struggling, weight loss can be caused by many factors and should be evaluated by a doctor if unintentional. If you have any other questions, we would be happy to assist you and your friend, you can reach out to us anytime.

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