If nourished properly early on, cachexia can be prevented.
Malnutrition is a common denominator amongst cancer patients; it is something that contributes to the development of cancer and it worsens as the cancer progresses. Malnutrition affects up to 85% of patients with certain cancers (e.g. pancreas). In severe cases, malnutrition can progress to cachexia, a specific form of malnutrition characterized by loss of lean body mass, muscle wasting, and impaired immune, physical and mental function.
Reports from the National Cancer Institute indicate that 20-40% of cancer patients die from causes related to malnutrition rather than the cancer itself—a startling fact that supports the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) study in which experts found that less than 20% of patients reported having received nutritional assistance during treatment. This of course comes as no surprise since doctors are known to be nutrition illiterates.
Malnutrition has been recognized as an important component of adverse outcomes, including increased morbidity and mortality and decreased quality of life. Starvation—malnutrition—is the natural progression of cancer; the body simply wastes until death occurs. It has been shown that 80% of patients with upper gastrointestinal cancer and 60% of patients with lung cancer have already experienced significant weight loss before cancer diagnosis. The dire fact is that most cancer patients die from starvation and from the violent toxicity of chemo and radiation treatments.
Malnutrition (lack of key nutrients) can cause a
patient to be weak, tired, and unable to
resist infections or withstand cancer therapies.
There are several reasons why people with cancer often are malnourished. The cancer itself may make eating or digestion difficult. This is common in people with mouth, throat, or gastrointestinal (digestive) system cancers. Cancer treatments such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy may cause a decreased appetite and nausea.
It is also known that people with cancer often need more calories and protein to maintain adequate nutrition of their immune system cells and other tissues. Recovery from surgery increases the body’s need for nutrients. Most importantly the cancer cells use up nutrients, leaving them less available to meet the needs of normal tissues. And, some cancers release substances that alter the body’s metabolism. As a result, tissues need more nutrients and are unable to use nutrients efficiently. For all of these reasons, people with cancer often need help from nutritionists and doctors to monitor their nutrition but they get inadequate or wrong advice from them.
 Eur J Oncol Nurs. 2005;9 Suppl 2:S39-50.Cancer-associated malnutrition. Argilés JM.
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Barcelona, Spain
 National Cancer Institute; http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/nutrition/HealthProfessional/page1/AllPages