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Stomach cancer and weight loss

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Weight loss and cancer

For many people, the side effects of cancer and treatment make it difficult to eat enough to stay at a healthy weight. Weight loss is a very common symptom for people with cancer, particularly in people with stomach, pancreatic or oesophageal cancer (cancer of the food pipe). There is a page in our living with stomach cancer section on diet after stomach cancer.

Weight loss is often associated with loss of appetite. But this is not the only reason for losing weight. You may be eating normally, but your body may not be absorbing all the nutrients in the food you eat. So you will still lose weight. This can be very upsetting and worrying. It is a constant reminder of your illness and can affect how you feel about yourself. Speak to your clinical nurse specialist or dietician about any eating problems. They will get you any help that you need.

Having stomach cancer will affect eating and drinking habits, whatever the stage of cancer or the treatment. People who have had all (or part of) the stomach removed will need to adjust the amount they eat at one time. Eating small, frequent meals (about two hourly) may help.


Keeping a food diary

Many people find that certain foods upset their digestion. Which foods do this varies from person to person. Trial and error is really the only way to find out if a particular food upsets you. Keep a food diary for a couple of weeks. Write down in one column what you eat and the time and date. In a second column, write down any diarrhoea, sickness or other digestion problems you have. You can then look back and find out which foods upset your system.


Increasing calorie intake

To put on weight you need more calories. But eating a high calorie diet can be difficult. Fat is the best way to get concentrated calories but after surgery to the stomach, you may find it difficult to tolerate high fat foods. You could try ready made liquid meals for extra calories, as well as your usual diet. You can get these on prescription from the GP. Or you can buy commercial brands, such as Build Up or Complan at your local chemist. There is a page of diet tips for weight gain which gives detailed information about adding calories to your diet.


Vitamin and mineral supplements

After stomach surgery, your doctors may have advised you to take extra calcium, vitamin D and iron. These nutrients are normally absorbed in the stomach. Having all or part of the stomach removed may mean you can't absorb enough from a normal diet. You may need to have injections of Vitamin B12. There is more information about getting the right nutrients after surgery in the stomach cancer section.


Seeing a dietician

You may benefit from seeing your dietician. A dietician will be able to offer support and advice to you and any family members who are helping to look after you. Ask for an appointment at the hospital where you had treatment.

Problems with eating and nutrition can cause a lot of distress and anxiety. Many people having these problems will need a great deal of emotional support to help them cope. So don't feel you are being a nuisance. This is a very important part of your recovery.

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Updated: 24 February 2014