Why Does Cancer Suppress Appetite?

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The road to recovery from cancer is a long and arduous one, not only because of the disease itself but also because of the many side effects that accompany its treatments. Cancer patients have to deal with symptoms ranging from the unpleasant – such as hair loss – to the outright debilitating – severe nerve pain or oral mucositis, for instance. One of the more insidious effects patients face is the loss of appetite during cancer, chemo, radiation, or any other part of the healing process; many patients end up losing a significant amount of weight due to a lack of desire to eat, a development which may require medical nutrition support. If you or someone you know has been struggling to eat while fighting cancer, you might be wondering why this disease sometimes suppresses the patient’s appetite. To find out, keep reading as the people at ENU explain.

The Effects of Cancer on Appetite

Appetite loss is more than a possibility for cancer patients; it’s one of the most common symptoms people experience when battling this deadly disease, though the cause can be tough to nail down. Many factors can lead to a loss of interest in food among those with cancer, the majority of which are not directly caused by the illness itself. Still, cancer can certainly have some effects in this regard; we’ll explore those below.

In some cases, the appearance and growth of cancerous tissues can trigger changes in a patient’s metabolism – the way the body converts food into energy. Though this is more common in those with advanced cancer, it can also impact a range of patients with various forms of the disease. It should be noted, however, that not all cancer-related changes in appetite are linked to metabolism; some are the result of a physical change in the body’s structure.

Cancers of the stomach, pancreas, colon, ovaries, and other organs in the abdomen can press against, or fill space in, the stomach, leading to feelings of fullness and a decrease in appetite. Some forms of cancer can also enlarge the spleen or liver, which can have similar effects on the stomach; in addition, cancers inside the abdomen sometimes cause inflammation, swelling, or a buildup of fluid in the area, all of which can lead a patient to feel full as well.

How Do Chemo and Radiation Suppress Appetite?

Much of the time, a patient’s changes in appetite are a result of their cancer treatments, rather than the disease itself. Common therapies – including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy – can limit a patient’s appetite, as can many of the side effects these treatments often produce. In some cases, it may be possible for your doctor to change your medication, alter your treatment schedule, or incorporate a new medication into your cancer-fighting regimen to improve your appetite. If you have one or more of the symptoms listed below, be sure to mention it to your doctor, as it could be the root of your problem:

  • Nausea and vomiting are frequently associated with cancer treatments and can reduce a patient’s interest in food.
  • Oral mucositis – a condition in which painful sores form in the mouth – can make it difficult to chew or swallow, which can affect appetite.
  • Some patients see changes in their sense of taste, which sometimes causes food to taste unpleasant. Certain steps, such as improving oral hygiene or using cryotherapy, may be able to help; talk to your doctor to learn more.
  • Depression, anxiety, and fatigue are all common conditions in cancer patients; any one of them could cause a loss of hunger.

Though these side effects could certainly be causing your lack of appetite, this is by no means an exhaustive list. If you are experiencing a loss of appetite and believe it may be linked to your illness or treatment, report your symptoms to your doctor or cancer care team right away.

Tips for Managing a Suppressed Appetite During Cancer or Chemo

Even if your doctor can’t raise your hunger to pre-cancer levels, there are some adjustments you can make to your lifestyle and eating habits that can improve your condition or promote a stronger appetite. For example, you might benefit from a new eating schedule; rather than trying to force down three big meals a day, aim for five or six small meals spaced throughout your day. If your hunger is unpredictable or shows up at unusual times, keeping calorie-dense snacks on hand can help boost your food intake without requiring much additional effort.

Picking foods that are easier to eat and keep down can be helpful, too. Foods that are high in calories and protein should get priority – think yogurt, cheese, ice cream, granola bars, eggs, nuts, pudding, and any other tasty treat that contains some much-needed nutrients. Liquid nutritional supplements for cancer patients and protein shakes for cancer patients can be effective as well. Also, do your best to drink plenty of fluids, but try to do so between meals, rather than with them; drinks can fill you up when you eat, limiting the number of calories you get from your meal.

Balanced Nutrition for Cancer Patients Suffering from Appetite Loss Available from ENU

Although it can be very hard to maintain healthy eating habits when you have cancer, there is no time in which proper nutrition is more important. As your body struggles to bounce back after each dose of chemo or bout of radiation, it’s critical that you supply it with the resources it needs to heal. ENU meal replacement shakes offer those very resources in the form of whey and soy protein, complex carbohydrates, heart-healthy fats, and a blend of more than 20 vitamins and minerals. To learn more about ENU nutritional shakes and how they can help you maintain your weight during cancer, visit us online or call (855) 266-6733 today.