Anorexia-Cachexia Syndrome: Why do people undergoing cancer treatment lose weight?

One of the situations that worries caregivers and people with cancer the most is weight loss. Due to some severe side effects of cancer treatment, it is common to believe that this loss comes from lack of appetite, changes in taste or even their gastrointestinal effects. But why does this happen? What is the nutritional role in these cases? Can you avoid it? We spoke with oncology nutritionist Andreia Rissati, to better understand this topic.

Does the loss of muscle mass happen just because of the treatment?

According to Rissati, the pathophysiology of cancer itself, that is, the way in which the cell’s DNA mutation occurs and becomes cancerous, is the cause of muscle mass loss. “Anorexia-cachexia syndrome (ACS) is a frequent complication in patients with an advanced malignant neoplasm.”

On the other hand, the treatment also causes nutritional concern. Rissati comments that “these aggressive treatments can last for several cycles and therefore patients are more exposed to infection risks, toxicities or organ failures and metabolic complications, which are their side effects.” That is, the treatment is so aggressive that the patient becomes prone to infections. As a consequence, the loss of lean mass causes a worsening of the response to treatments, and this can be seen as a domino effect.

The cases of obese patients are even more complex. It is common to believe that weight loss in obese people is linked to improved health, but in people with cancer or undergoing treatment, this reduction may be linked to the loss of lean mass and not body fat. “Obese cancer patients can be misclassified as having improved nutritional status, when in fact they have ascites, edema or a progression of the disease with an increase in tumor volume.” In other words, the loss of muscle mass in cancer patients is not only linked to what is visible to the eye, but to the state of that organism as a whole.

Each case is different

It is because of these individualistic traits that the presence of a nutrition professional is essential for cancer patients. According to Rissati “The biggest challenge for us nutritionists is to balance the patient’s diet through nutritional counseling, increasing lean mass and reducing this loss of functionality.”

The answer to reduce or avoid these damages is treated differently in each phase of treatment, that is, the nutritional relationship is relativized according to each individual. “There are foods that are fundamental to the functioning of our bodies. A specialized nutritionist will guide the dietary management with the best metabolic response to cellular oxidative stress”.

Supplementation for what?

The use of supplementation is indicated to provide more calmness to the patient or their caregiver, in addition to boosting the prevention and reversal of muscle mass loss.

“When the patient does not reach their energy and protein needs through natural food, this patient will benefit from nutritional strategies to manage symptoms, such as offering nutritional supplements and a conversation about the appropriateness of their use, which improve treatment tolerance and help with muscle mass recovery.”

Studies on nutritional elements that help both in increasing muscle mass and in preventing its loss are constantly evolving. In our conversation, Rissati commented that “some nutrients have been the subject of oncology studies; Leucine has many studies confirming the significant improvements in reducing muscle mass loss and decreasing the cachexia index.” Prodiet’s Immax is a supplement designed for cancer patients. It is high in protein and contains L-leucine, which helps maintain muscle mass. It can be included in foods and beverages, as it does not change their flavors.

It is necessary to highlight these very specific needs of cancer patients, which go beyond what is visible on the surface. It is not about the patient being obese or thin, it is about cachexia, a condition that affects both the quality of life and the possibility of treatment success. Thus, it is possible to see the importance of the role of the nutritionist in these cases more clearly, as well as the scientific evolution of this area.

IMMAX – 350 G: ideal for cancer patients. with alterations in taste and appetite with high protein requirements.


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