Preventing Weight Loss in Cancer Patients

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Weight loss among cancer patients may not be unavoidable, a new study suggests. Researchers here have found that there is a great variability in loss of taste and odour sensations among lung cancer patients, and that much of the weight loss cancer patients suffer may not be an inevitable side-effect of treatment, but part of the disease itself.

“Patients often have taste and smell deterioration even before they are diagnosed,” said Dr. Jennifer Garst of Duke University Medical Centre.

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She and fellow researchers are investigating whether adding food enhancers to tantalize the taste buds and strengthen the odour of the food will help cancer patients eat better and possibly gain weight.

Cancer patients who report the greatest weight loss tend to do the least well in terms of recovery, Dr. Garst noted.

According to this recent study of 33 patients, 43% reported some deficit of taste, whether it was the lost ability to taste anything or simply not being able to distinguish between tastes, such as a salty taste and a sweet one. Thirty-six per cent of patients reported changes in the intensity of odours.

According to the researchers, the impact of losing the sense of smell or taste can lead to weight loss, body-mass loss and nutritional deficits.

The researchers are now in the midst of another study, in which half of the participants are being given flavour enhancers to strengthen the taste and smell of their food. Currently 60 patients are enrolled, but they hope to include 150 participants before that study is complete.

Although results are preliminary, participants receiving the enhancers are reportedly enjoying their food more, said Dr. Jennifer Zervakis (PhD), another of the study’s authors. Only subjective reports have been obtained so weight gain at this point has not been determined, she said.

There may be a variety of factors that influence how a person responds to flavour enhancers, including how severe the disease is in the person who is having taste or smell distortions, or whether or not the patient is receiving treatment.

Treating loss of smell or taste may assist patients to live more comfortably, Dr. Garst said. “Eating is very important to a lot of people.” Too many doctors accept the loss of taste or smell as simply part of the disease or treatment and do not offer patients assistance in this area, Dr. Garst said.

“There is not much research into how to help this. We’ve become complacent. If we can figure out a way to make people eat and not lose weight, then hopefully we can impact survival.”

The study findings were presented at the recent annual meeting of the Association of Chemoreception Sciences.

Source: © The Medical Post 2002

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