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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
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cancer care

Cancer patients advised not to ignore weight loss during treatment

A survey has shown that many people are not clear on the importance of nutritional care during cancer care.

CANCER PATIENTS HAVE been advised not to ignore weight loss during treatment, following a survey showing that many people are not clear on the importance of nutritional care during cancer care.

A survey commissioned by the Irish Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (IrSPEN) shows significant levels of misunderstanding or lack of knowledge about nutrition and cancer care.

Half of the 1,000 respondents were unclear about whether nutrition makes a difference during cancer care, and 60% didn’t know that losing weight or muscle during treatment carries risk, including for patients who are overweight or obese.

Some 28% of people incorrectly believed that if a person is overweight or obese, losing weight is a positive side effect of cancer with a further 32% unsure.

Before or during active treatment is not the time for weight loss, including for people with obesity

But IrSPEN spokesperson and Obesity Specialist at St Vincent’s University Hospital Professor Carel le Roux said current medical research shows that maintaining good nutritional health, body weight and muscle mass during cancer care significantly improves medical outcomes – including for people who are overweight or obese.

Professor Le Roux said: “Contrary to what people seem to think, weight and muscle loss are unhelpful at the time of treatment – whether people are under or overweight – making treatment less effective and increasing the risks of complications.

“From the time of diagnosis and during active treatment, the goal is to minimise weight change, preserve muscle mass and maintain body strength.”

Professor Le Roux added that this is important for many people, as 40-60% of cancer patients are overweight or obese at the time of diagnosis.

“Before or during active treatment is not the time for weight loss, including for people with obesity, as it may negatively impact the patient’s response to treatments and make them more susceptible to complications that can result in having to delay further treatment, which can affect overall survival.”

IrSPEN President and Consultant Gastrointestinal Surgeon Professor John Reynolds said there is a need to dispel the myth that weight loss and deterioration in nutritional status is an inevitable consequence of cancer and its treatments.

He said it is important to understand that “weight loss and malnutrition are not inevitable or something that can be dealt with after treatment. An important pillar of cancer care is to keep the patient in the best possible condition to benefit from the advances we have seen in treatments.”

Specialist Oncology Dietitian Veronica McSharry said that by the time many cancer patients are referred to her for help, they are already severely malnourished. “Failure to address nutritional deterioration in cancer, including in those who are overweight, puts the patient at risk of poor tolerance to chemotherapy, increased complications in surgery and increased need for hospital inpatient care.

“We need greater awareness not only among people suffering from cancer and their families, but also those involved in providing cancer care that addressing nutrition problems will benefit the patient.

“The message for all cancer patients irrespective of their weight is – if you are unable to maintain your weight and experiencing noticeable loss of muscle, seek advice from your care team and / or request a referral to a Dietitian and the earlier the better.”

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