Condition: Cancer-Related Appetite Loss

Appetite loss (anorexia) is common for patients with cancer. Changes in appetite may be secondary to the cancer itself or side effects of treatment.

In patients with cancer the hormones that regulate hunger become dysfunctional. This may result in appetite loss, altered food preferences, or an earlier sensation of fullness whilst eating.

Almost all cancer patients will experience some form of change in appetite.

Management of appetite loss in cancer is an important part of therapy to allow patients to adapt to the challenges of cancer treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Almost all cancer patients will experience some form of change in appetite.

50-80% of cancer patients will go on to develop cachexia, a disorder characterised by weight loss, anorexia, loss of muscle mass, inflammation and decline in function.

This has a significant impact on a patient’s quality of life and is associated with poorer outcomes.

Human appetite is normally kept in balance via the complex interaction of hormones that respond to internal and external cues that suggest how much energy the body needs.

Cancer produces inflammation in the body, which in many people causes these signals to become unbalanced, resulting in appetite loss or early fullness whilst eating.

Cancers affecting the gastrointestinal tract, head and neck, liver, and pancreas are at high risk of developing anorexia, malnutrition and weight loss.

Appetite loss can also be a side effect of cancer treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Diagnosis is made by listening to the patient to understand their symptoms in full and by performing a clinical examination.

A full nutritional assessment might also include blood tests and weight measurements.

Cancer-Related Appetite Loss Treatment

In people with cancer appetite loss can be distressing due to its association with significant weight loss and impairment in function.

Simple measures can be very affective at helping improve appetite, including: frequent snacking, flexible mealtimes, making meals appealing and fun, and drinking nourishing drinks.

In addition to these, it is possible to stimulate appetite through medications called steroids (e.g. dexamethasone) and progestogens (e.g. medroxyprogesterone).

Medical cannabis can be considered when first line therapies have not achieved adequate symptom control.

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If you are a patient or carer seeking an appointment to discuss treatment with medical cannabis, you can complete this form and we can assist you with this.

Eligible patients can provide us with their healthcare records or we can obtain these through your GP. This is to confirm that a patient’s condition has been fully assessed and all other treatment options have been attempted. We will ensure that the primary care provider receives all treatment communication to maintain the highest level of clinical governance.

We also accept referrals from healthcare professionals.

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