Symptoms: Controlling Weight Loss
Weight loss is a common problem in
individuals with cancer of the pancreas and/or after a Whipple procedure,
the most common surgery for pancreatic cancer. Weight loss can be
associated with treatment or with the cancer itself.
What is tumor-induced
Tumor-induced weight loss, also
known as cancer cachexia, is a complex problem that affects the way calories
and protein are used in the body. Cancer cachexia can cause the
body to burn more calories than usual, break down muscle protein and at
the same time decrease appetite.
Most pancreatic tumors release
compounds called cytokines into the blood. These cytokines change
the body’s use of nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats).
In addition, cytokines cause the body to burn calories faster than they
are replaced. The body’s appetite is then suppressed causing decreased
food intake. This process leads to thinner bodies, smaller muscles
and fatigue. Weight loss and malnutrition can have a significant
impact on quality of life, daily functioning, response to treatment, length
of hospital stays and complications such as infections.
What steps can I take
to minimize tumor-induced weight loss?
Though we are gaining knowledge
about cancer cachexia, little is known about how to control or stop the
process. Nutrition counseling, use of oral nutrition supplements
and use of appetite-stimulating medications may help patients with tumor-induced
weight loss. Controlling tumor growth through treatment such as
chemotherapy or chemoradiation therapy can also assist in controlling
MCT (Medium Chain Triglyceride)
oil is a nutrient which may help control weight loss in patients with
uncontrolled malabsorption. MCT oil is a calorie-rich type of fat
that is rapidly absorbed by the body. It is found naturally in coconut
oil, palm kernel oil and butter. MCT oil is added to some medical
nutritional supplements and can be purchased alone as a nutritional supplement.
Use of oral nutritional supplements may promote weight gain, help increase
strength and physical activity and improve quality of life. A doctor
or registered dietitian should advise the patient about taking MCT oil,
the source and the amount.
The following tips may
assist in controlling weight loss:
- Consult with a registered dietitian for nutrition counseling.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Plan to eat 5-6 times per day including snacks in between meals.
- Eat calorie-rich, nutrient-dense foods and try not to consume foods
or liquids with little nutritional value, like soft drinks.
- Restrict or avoid any foods that may cause or worsen diarrhea.
- Use medical nutritional products, such as Boost®, Ensure® and Carnation®
Instant Breakfast®, as snacks or drink with medications that can be
taken with food.
- Consider use of pancreatic enzymes and take them as directed.
- Check with the doctor to see if medications would be helpful in controlling
- Maintain adequate hydration.
- Incorporate physical activity into your day as it supports lean body
mass, may enhance appetite and may decrease fatigue:
- Aim for a total of 30 minutes per day of activity, such as walking.
- Break activity into small increments of 5-10 minutes totaling 30
minutes per day.
Dietetic Association: Oncology Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group
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