Why is Malnutrition Important to Monitor in Patients with Cancer?

November 16, 2020
Jessica Skarzynski

Nutrition is a vital aspect for patients with cancer, and malnutrition is a concern that must be tracked through the cancer journey.

With certain types of cancer, particularly gastrointestinal (GI) and pancreatic cancers, malnutrition is often a concern, as it leads to weight loss, muscle loss and other damaging side effects. But fortunately, as Dr. Grant Williams, a geriatrician oncologist and assistant professor at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, explains, nutrition is also one of the areas of their health care that a patient can take control of.

In a recent interview with CURE®, Williams explained why it’s important for patients with cancer to stay on top of possible malnutrition, and how that can help improve outcomes in the long run.

Transcription:

Why malnutrition is important, I think, is, there are two aspects. One is the unfortunate nature that, particularly GI cancers, like pancreatic cancer, they cause this cancer cachexia, which is really alterations in food intake and appetite, but also a kind of a pro-inflammatory response related to the cancer, which often leads to weight loss, muscle loss and these changes in overall metabolism. And part of it is does correlate with the aggressiveness of disease. So when we see patients with a lot of symptoms or concerns around weight loss, and cachexia, particularly around these more aggressive inflammatory cancers, like pancreatic cancer, we know that, that usually doesn't go well, meaning these patients are at higher risk for bad outcomes.

But I would say that's one aspect of it. I think the other aspect of it, as both as a provider and a patient, we always want to focus on, what can I do to improve my outcomes? Sure, they've got this cancer, but they want to do something to kind of help. And I would say, we get more questions about nutrition than perhaps almost any question when we're sitting and discussing with patients.

And I think nutrition is one of those areas that patients are starved for information, and it's also just a domain or a facet of health that really they can control to some degree, you know, outside of the cancer itself aspects. So, I think that my interest in it, you know, it's great to assess things that you can't change. But there are some things you can (change), and I would say nutrition is definitely a top aspect for intervention.

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