Weight Loss is the First Indication of Cancer Many-a-time
Weight fluctuations (rise and fall of weight measurements) over a person’s lifetime are common due to diet changes, exercise routines, metabolism changes as we age and lifestyle practices. Weight loss for no valid reason, especially when the loss is too high, can be attributed to different physical or psychological causes. Such dramatic weight loss is a warning sign to the individual to meet his/her physician immediately.
Obesity is a well-known risk factor for cancer and intentionally losing weight reduces levels of certain hormones such as insulin, estrogen and androgens that are related to cancer risk. Right from breast, kidney, pancreas and esophagus to liver, cervix, ovary and gallbladder cancer, overweight/obesity increases the chances of these cancers by multifold. At the same time, unintentional weight loss too is a great risk factor of this deadly disease.
Individuals affected by cancer lose weight at some point. When an individual loses weight for no reason it is termed as ‘unintentional weight loss’. By ‘no reason’ it means that the individual is not under any diet program for weight loss, does not do daily physical activity or stay active but still keeps losing weight steadily. Such individuals keep losing around 4-5 kilograms of body weight which is the first sign of cancer. By the books, unintentional weight loss is defined as weight loss of at least 5% of the patient’s body weight that occurs within a period of 6 to 12 months and is not the consequences of treatment of a known illness. A new study has proved that when a patient experiences unintentional weight loss, it is the second highest predictor for some forms of cancer, such as the cancers of the esophagus, pancreas, stomach or lung.
For many patients, almost 40%, such unplanned weight loss is the first sign of cancer. Depending on the cancer type and the organs affected, patients experience nausea, lack of appetite, chewing difficulties and swallowing problems that decrease food intake levels drastically. Sometimes, cancer cells use body’s energy supply and alter the way food energy is processed by the body which can also result in weight loss. Cachexia and sarcopenia are two syndromes of such unintentional weight loss. Cachexia is characterized by decreased muscle mass due to some underlying disease such as cancer or advanced heart failure. All patients with cachexia witness unintentional weight loss but not all patients with unintentional weight loss have cachexia.
Studies on Cancer Risk Due to Unintentional Weight Loss
Researchers analyzed the findings of 25 studies collected from more than 11 million patients between 1994 and 2015. Results showed that:
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.