Weight Loss 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.

Weight loss is commonplace among individuals with cancer – it is frequently the first noticeable sign of the disease.

Around 40% of individuals with cancer have experienced unexplained weight loss at the time of diagnosis, and as many as 80% of people with advanced cancer experience weight loss and cachexia (wasting), which is the combination of weight loss and muscle mass loss.

Weight loss and muscle wasting are also often accompanied by Fatigue, loss of energy, weakness, and an inability to perform everyday tasks. Individuals experiencing cachexia often cannot manage treatments well and may also experience more intense symptoms.


Weight loss will generally start happening when your child experiences Appetite Loss or finds food unappealing. This may be from other side effects of cancer or cancer treatment that include:

  • Changes to the immune system or metabolism, which is the process of the body breaking down food and turning it into energy
  • Depression



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 as well as any changes in symptoms with their Oncology Team, so that they can work out a regimen of palliative or supportive care for them.

Controlling your child’s cancer-related weight loss is important for their comfort and well-being. The following suggestions may help:

  • Increase the amount of food you give your child to eat. Talk with their healthcare team about how much more they should try to eat;
  • Consider asking your child’s doctor about your child being fed through a tube that goes directly to the stomach; this may help children with head and neck or oesophageal cancers who are having Difficulty Chewing or Difficulty Swallowing;
  • Give your child light meals and avoid giving them protein-rich foods shortly chemotherapy, to help prevent feelings of dislike to these foods due to nausea or vomiting from treatment.

Your child’s doctor may recommend medications to address their weight loss:

  • A progesterone hormone that can improve appetite, weight gain, and a person’s sense of well-being;
  • Medications that can prevent your child feeling full before eating enough food;
  • Steroid medications which can increase appetite, improve your child’s sense of well-being, and help with nausea, weakness, or pain;

Nutrition counseling may help your child get Essential Nutrients, such as protein, vitamins, and minerals into their diet and maintain a healthy body weight. Ask your child’s healthcare team for help or for a referral to a registered dietitian or nutritionist.

It may also be beneficial to keep a journal of what, when, and how much your child eats, and how they felt afterwards (include facts about whether they were nauseous, felt full after eating or noticed any changes in the taste of the food. These details could help your child’s healthcare team to find the best way to maintain their weight during cancer treatment.


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