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Weight Loss & Nutrition During CA Treatment



I am 60 pounds overweight. I have squamous cell carcinoma on the tongue. Nutritionist tells me I should NOT lose any weight during chemotherapy and radiation. WHY? If I maintain a diet of high protein, balanced with vegetables, fruits and carbs, and maintain a caloric intake of 2,500 calories a day . . . why should I be concerned about weight loss? My cardiologist wants me to lose weight. My blood sugar levels are high. WHY would I strive to maintain my obesity throughout chemotherapy and radiation?


Studies demonstrate that it is not in the patient's best interest to lose a significant amount of weight during cancer treatment. Those who lose less than 10% of their starting weight have better treatment outcomes and a decreased risk of becoming ill during and after treatment. This is because up to half of the weight lost during treatment can consist of muscle mass, and depleting muscle stores can not only lead to fatigue, but can compromise a person's immune system.

If a patient is obese, it is appropriate for him/her to lose 4 to 6 pounds in a month period during treatment as long as protein stores are not compromised. Monitoring bloodwork which reflects protein status is essential in making sure that a person losing weight does not compromise their immune function and is able to heal and recover appropriately once treatment is completed. Note that a high protein diet alone will not necessarily maintain a person's protein stores. Adequate calories (in the form of carbohydrates and fat) are required to meet daily energy needs and allow protein to function within the body and to help the body heal.

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Response by:

Kimberly  Ortega, MS, RD, LD Kimberly Ortega, MS, RD, LD
Dietician and Oncology Specialist
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University