Caring for the Patient With Cancer at Home

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Weakness

Weight changes

Weight changes during treatment for cancer are common. There are a number of causes for weight loss including:

  • Eating less due to nausea or poor appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration

(You can learn more about each of these in their related sections.)

Causes for weight gain include:

  • Less activity
  • Eating more
  • Retaining water (See the section called “Swelling.”)
  • Certain medicines

Quick weight loss is often a sign of dehydration, which can be serious. Weight changes of more than 5 pounds in a week should be reported to your doctor. A decrease in weight over time may affect the patient’s ability to function, and make them weak and unable to perform daily activities. An increase in weight over time may suggest a serious health condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. You may be able to tell if you gain or lose 5 pounds in a week by the way you feel or the way your clothes fit, or you can weigh yourself on a scale every few days.

What to look for

  • Weight loss of 5 pounds or more in a week or less
  • Dry skin
  • Fatigue, weakness
  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Dizziness
  • Clothes or rings are too big
  • OR

  • Weight gain of 5 pounds or more in a week or less
  • Swollen ankles
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling puffy or bloated
  • Tight shoes, clothes, or rings

What the patient can do

If you have lost weight

  • See the section called “Fluids (lack of) and dehydration.”
  • Be sure to drink enough water and other liquids.
  • Drink extra high-protein and high-calorie fluids between meals.
  • Eat high-protein foods. You may also try liquid food supplements.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse to arrange a meeting with a dietitian.

If you have gained weight

  • Talk with your doctor or nurse about limiting fluid if your ankles are swollen.
  • Limit your salt intake.
  • Limit high-calorie foods.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse to arrange a meeting with a dietitian.

What caregivers can do

  • Weigh the patient at the same time every day and write it down along with the date. A good time is in the morning before breakfast.
  • Talk to the doctor if the patient’s weight loss or weight gain concerns you.
  • Watch the patient for other symptoms.

Call the doctor if the patient:

  • Loses or gains more than 5 pounds in a week
  • Has shortness of breath
  • Feels dizzy or becomes confused

Last Medical Review: 11/05/2013
Last Revised: 11/05/2013