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Coping with Lack of Appetite in Cancer Care

Anyone who has ever undergone cancer treatment understands that loss of appetite simply goes along with the disease. Anorexia and cachexia are common side effects in two particular cases: during active treatment and end-stage cancer. While thousands of cancer patients will not face the latter, almost all do endure the former. Helping family members cope with these common symptoms is a concern for many medical practitioners.

When cancer patients refuse to eat – either due to end-of-life concerns or treatment-related appetite issues – family members get worried. Some fear their loved one is giving up. Others are concerned their loved one will starve to death or fail to gain the biggest benefits from treatment due to a lack of nutrition.

While overcoming appetite concerns when morbidity is likely and imminent may not be possible, doctors stress there are ways to help when problems are treatment-related. If nausea is the driving concern, medications that can combat therapy-related stomach upsets are available. Patients and their families may also want to try these coping strategies:

• Plan meals wisely – Smaller, more frequent meals can be best for those undergoing treatment. Consider larger amounts of food in the morning when people tend to tolerate food more easily. Light, healthy snacks and meals can be helpful as the day progresses.

• Create a low-pressure environment – Trying to force people to eat will not likely gain the desired results. Keep meal time low key and encourage the loved one to eat as little – or as much – as he or she wants.

• Try different foods – What a person loved before chemo may not taste right during treatments. Consider offering a variety of foods to help find those that are most appetizing.

• Get supplemental help – Should poor nutrition be a lingering concern, speak with the doctor on the case about supplemental products that may be of help. Do not, however, introduce these without medical approval.

Appetite loss and cancer do go hand-in-hand. The best strategy for coping will depend on the individual patient.

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