Patients Suffering From Cachexia Need Nutritional Support

Katie Kosko

Nutrition plays a crucial role in the lives of people with cancer. But more than a million people suffering from the disease in the United States also endure a wasting syndrome called cachexia.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) defines cachexia as the loss of body weight and muscle mass in a patient, as well as weakness. This debilitating condition can severely affect the health and quality of life of patients, as well as create hardships for their families.

Now, new research presented at the 2017 Palliative and Supportive Care in Oncology Symposium shows that patients with advanced cancer who have cachexia want nutritional support and have a greater need for it.

Researchers conducted the study to examine the relationship between the need for nutritional support and cancer cachexia, specific needs, perceptions and beliefs.

Patients were separated into two groups: non-cachexia/pre-cachexia (weight loss of less than 5 percent) and cachexia (weight loss greater than 5 percent)/refractory cachexia (patients who are no longer responsive to cancer treatment and have a life expectancy of less than three months).

They gathered information via a questionnaire from 117 patients in outpatient service, palliative care teams and palliative care units.

The researchers determined that there was a significant difference in need for nutritional support. In the cachexia/refractory cachexia group, more than half (53.6 percent) of patients were in need compared with 32.7 percent in the non-cachexia/pre-cachexia group.

The specific needs of patients requiring nutritional support were nutritional counseling (93.8 percent), ideas to improve food intake (87.5 percent), oral nutritional supplements (83 percent), parenteral (not delivered through the mouth) nutrition and hydration (77.1 percent) and tube feeding (22.9 percent).

Regarding perceptions, nearly half of patients (48.6 percent) surveyed felt that the best time to receive nutritional support was, “when anorexia, weight loss and muscle weakness become apparent.” And the best medical staff, according to 67.3 percent of patients, to provide that support is a “nutritional support team.”

The study listed the top three beliefs of nutritional treatments: “I do not wish to receive tube feeding” (78.6 percent), “parenteral nutrition and hydration are essential” (60.7 percent) and “parenteral hydration is essential” (59.6 percent).

Cachexia is most commonly seen in patients with pancreatic, gastric, lung, esophageal, colorectal and head and neck cancers, according to the NCI. There are currently no effective therapies to prevent it.

“Patients with advanced cancer wished to receive nutritional support from medical staff with specific knowledge when they become unable to take sufficient nourishment orally and the negative impact of cachexia becomes apparent,” noted the authors
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