Is the weight loss caused by cachexia or a change in diet?
Is Weight Loss a Problem?
When a person drastically changes his or her diet to a cancer diet, they will almost always lose a significant amount of weight. This is normal and it is also normal for this weight loss to level off within a couple of weeks. However, sometimes the amount of weight that was lost causes some concern, or the weight loss may not stop as expected.
There are two major things to think about.
The Weight Loss Causes the Family to be Concerned About the General Health of the Patient
Due to the amount of weight loss, or the weight of the person after weight loss, the family may be concerned about the general health of the patient.
For example, if a person does not weigh very much when they begin the cancer diet (i.e. they weigh less than 115 pounds when they begin treatment, though that is a subjective number), there may be justified concerns about any loss of weight.
Or if the person weighs enough, but too much loss of weight causes concern there could be a major problem.
First, the cause of unacceptable weight loss should be identified by working with a medical professional.
Is it caused by the person's attitude and unwillingness to eat? Attitude is critical during a cancer diet, and even if it affects the treatment for a few days, the attitude should be given high priority.
Is it weight loss caused by the diet being too strict (e.g. too much of the diet is liquid)?
The answer to this may just be a matter of changing the diet to include whole grains (including whole grain bread), a little meat, fish, eggs, butter, and high protein foods, etc.
But what if the diet is changed, and the weight continues to drop? This may be a condition known as cachexia.
Cachexia is “a wasting syndrome characterized by weakness and a noticeable continuous loss of weight, fat, and muscle.” In other words, cachexia is an uncontrollable downward spiral of a cancer patient's weight.
Three major things may appear to be cachexia:
- Cancer treatments have destroyed the lining of a person's digestive tract and nutrients are not absorbed by the body,
- The person simply cannot physically eat very much for a variety of reasons,
- Cancer cells steal nutrition from the normal cells. In this case the weight loss is caused by a vicious cycle occurring in the body involving the liver and cancer cells.
The first item may be called “cachexia,” but it is technically not cachexia. Only item #3 is the official definition of cachexia.
Dealing with item #1 will most likely involve dealing with the medical profession. They will need to feed the patient with tubes. The long-term prospects for the patient are not good. Alternative treatments for this situation may involve I.V. vitamin infusions. In other words, treatments that do not involve digesting food.
In determining whether a patient really has cachexia, the first thing that must be decided is whether the loss of weight began before the alternative treatment began. If the weight loss did begin before the treatment began, it very well could be cachexia.
On the other hand, if the weight loss began at the same time the treatment began, then it is likely it can be controlled with diet, as discussed above.
In either case, if the weight loss is uncontrollable, regardless of how much the patient eats then you may be dealing with cachexia.
Cachexia is a serious problem because it means the patient is in the final terminal stages. If you need more information on cachexia, please see the article on cachexia and hydrazine sulphate: