Why Does Lung Cancer Make You Lose Weight?

Many people experience poor appetite and weight fluctuations throughout their lives; however, people can usually point to a few causes. If you are undergoing drastic, unexplained weight and appetite loss, your body may be trying to tell you something. Unintentional weight loss and poor appetite can be warning signs and symptoms of lung cancer. Additionally, factors such as medicines and treatment for lung cancer can affect your appetite and weight.

If you or a loved one are experiencing weight and appetite loss, discover what these lung cancer symptoms mean and how to stop them.

Cachexia and Advanced Lung Cancer

Cachexia is a disorder that causes extreme weight loss, muscle wasting, and loss of body fat. The key difference between cachexia and other types of weight loss is that cachexia is involuntary. Cachexia is often referred to as a “wasting syndrome” as its common symptoms include reduced muscle strength, fatigue, appetite loss, and anemia.

Up to 80% of people with late-stage cancer have cachexia. This occurs because tumor cells release appetite-reducing substances that make it difficult to eat and absorb nutrients. As a result, cachexia patients experience malnutrition, and the body begins to burn fat and muscle since there are few nutrients. One-third of cancer patients eventually pass from this condition.

Does Early Stage Lung Cancer Cause Weight Loss?

Early and late stages of cancer and weight loss go hand in hand. Cancer cells demand more energy than healthy cells, causing the body to burn more calories than it typically would. Additionally, the immune system can start to produce substances called cytokines that increase inflammation. These substances can alter metabolism and affect the hormones that control appetite, causing weight loss.

Cancer can cause physical cancer symptoms, like hair loss, as well as emotional ones. Cancer patients can experience stress, anxiety, or depression. These negative emotions can unfavorably affect appetite and energy levels.

Poor appetite and weight loss can differ depending on the cancer type, too. For example, cancers that affect the mouth or throat often make swallowing or chewing more difficult. Patients who experience nausea as a cancer side effect often notice a loss of appetite or the body’s ability to keep food down. Additionally, tumors affecting organs near the abdomen, such as ovarian cancer, may press on the stomach as they grow, making people feel full even when they are not.

Weight Loss & Loss of Appetite Due to Lung Cancer Treatment

Different types of lung cancer treatment can induce poor appetite and weight loss symptoms. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Some medications and treatments can lead to the development of mouth sores, making it difficult to eat. No matter the reason, several lung cancer treatments can lead to weight loss and loss of appetite.

Appetite Loss Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells and prevent the metastasis of tumors. However, radiation therapy for lung cancer often causes loss of appetite or difficulty eating in patients. Depending on the location of radiation therapy, the effects vary.

Radiation therapy near the abdomen or head can cause nausea and vomiting after treatment. Radiation near the head and neck areas can make chewing and swallowing painful and difficult, as well as change the way different foods taste. It can also be expensive and alter your mental health.

How to Stop Weight Loss in Lung Cancer Patients

If you are looking to get your appetite back during any stage of lung cancer, there are a few steps you can take to stop weight loss.

  1. If you have difficulty chewing and swallowing, try eating soft, moist foods such as soups, scrambled eggs, and baked vegetables.
  2. Anti-nausea medications can help relieve feelings of nausea and stimulate appetite.
  3. Work with a trainer to create a cancer-friendly workout plan that stimulates your muscles and improves energy and appetite.

Additional Causes of Weight Loss

Aside from cancer, there are several other potential causes of unexplained weight loss and poor appetite, including:

  • Celiac disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Dementia
  • Diabetes
  • Parasitic infections
  • HIV

When to See a Doctor about Weight Loss

No matter the reason you are experiencing these symptoms, there are telltale signs of when you should see a doctor. Losing more than 5% of your weight within six to twelve months typically indicates a problem. If you are losing weight without trying and are concerned, you can consult your doctor.