Weight Gain in Childhood Cancer
Symptom Management, Palliative Care, or Supportive Care to relieve side-effects is an important part of cancer care and treatment and should always form part of the overall treatment plan.
Although most individuals lose weight during cancer treatment, some gain weight. Minor increases in weight during cancer treatment are generally not a problem, but significant weight-gain may affect your child’s health and ability to undergo treatment.
Being overweight could also negatively impact your child’s self-image and could lead to them being teased by other children and become a recluse to avoid taunts. This will severely impact on the emotional as well as physical wellbeing of your child, which is not something they need when they are battling cancer.
The following cancer treatments may lead to weight gain in your child:
- Chemotherapy: Some types of chemotherapy cause the body to hold on to excess fluid in the cells and tissues; this is called oedema. Chemotherapy also often results in a reduction of physical activity due to fatigue. Chemotherapy may also trigger intense food cravings or increase hunger, especially for high-fat foods. Chemotherapy may also decrease your child’s metabolism (the rate at which the body uses energy).
- Steroid Medications: Steroid medications are often used for cancer treatment to reduce symptoms of inflammation, such as swelling and pain, or to treat nausea. They are also used for some cancers as part of the treatment for the cancer itself. Increase in fatty issue, which can increase the size of a person’s abdomen and cause fullness in the neck or face is unfortunately one side-effect of these medications. Steroids can also cause loss of weight and loss of muscle mass, which is called wasting. A noticeable increase in weight more often than not only occurs when people have been taking steroids continuously for many weeks.
- Hormonal Therapy: Hormonal therapy for the treatment of breast, uterine, prostate, and testicular cancers involves medications that decrease the amount of oestrogen or progesterone in women and testosterone in men. Decreases in these hormone levels can increase fat, decrease muscle, and lower a person’s metabolism.
Relieving side effects is an important part of total cancer care and treatment, which is why you should discuss any symptoms your child is experiencing, new symptoms and changes in symptoms with their Oncology Team so that they can work out a regimen of palliative or supportive care for them.
If weight-gain in your child becomes a problem, speak to their Doctor or Oncology Team before starting them on a diet or changing their eating habits. Your child’s medical team can help find out the possible cause of the weight gain and discuss how best to manage it.
Diet and Physical Activity
Here are some ways to address weight gain through Diet and Physical Activity:
- Give your child plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains;
- Limit your child’s fat, sugar, and refined flour intake;
- make sure your child drinks plenty of water;
- Use healthier cooking methods where possible, such as steaming instead of frying.
- Evaluate your child’s everyday eating habits, and try to identify any behaviour patterns that lead to them overeating or being inactive. A Registered Dietician could help with this.
- Find Cardiovascular Physical Activities that your child can do and will enjoy, such as walking or cycling – if you could do the activity with them it would be even better! Do strength building exercises with your child if they have lost muscle – check with their doctor before beginning any new type of exercise or increasing your child’s physical activity.
Managing Fluid Retention-Related Weight Gain
If your child experiences any of the following signs of fluid retention, speak to their doctor immediately:
- Decreased flexibility in your child’s hands, elbows, wrists, fingers, or legs
- Rings, wristwatches, bracelets, or shoes that fit tighter than usual
- Skin that feels stiff
- Skin that leaves small indentations after pressing on the swollen area
- Swelling in your child’s arms or legs, especially around the ankles and wrists
The following tips can help you manage your child’s fluid retention:
- Ask your child’s doctor about prescribing medication that increases urination (a diuretic), to rid their body of excess water;
- Ask your child’s healthcare team if wearing support or compression stockings may help;
- Do not allow your child to wear tight clothing or footwear;
- Ensure that your child elevate their feet as often as possible;
- Lower the amount of salt in your child’s diet;
- Tell your child not to cross their legs, as it restricts blood flow;
- Tell your child to avoid standing for long periods;
- Weigh your child at the same time every day, and keep a log of their daily weights. Take this log with you to your child’s medical appointments so their healthcare team can evaluate them.