When most people think of chemotherapy they envision feeling ill, having a loss of appetite and struggling just to take in enough calories. While this is often the case, what many people are shocked to find out is that, often, people gain weight during chemotherapy. It can be a startling, upsetting and confusing experience as you are fighting to keep yourself healthy and beat cancer and you see the number on the scale rising. As frustrating as weight gain is when undergoing chemotherapy is, you are not alone and there are things you can do to lessen weight gain if you begin to notice an increase.
So, how can chemotherapy cause weight gain and is there anything that can be done to prevent it? Weight gain is not universally experienced because it is generally impacted by the type of cancer a patient has and the treatment they are receiving. The American Cancer Society discusses the causes of weight gain during chemotherapy, “Many of the cancer patients with hormone based cancers like breast or prostate I speak to are surprised when they find they have gained weight after their treatments. Men on anti-androgen (hormone deprivation) therapy often gain weight in the first year of treatment. Women treated with adjuvant chemotherapy or who experience onset of menopause are most likely to experience weight gain. Gaining weight after being diagnosed can give these patients a higher risk of the cancer returning. In fact, a recent study showed that men who gained about 5 pounds (2.2 kg) in the years after prostatectomy had higher rates of recurrence than those with stable weight. And for breast cancer, studies also suggest that weight gain after treatment can increase recurrence risk and decrease survival. ” In addition to hormone therapies, edema from chemotherapy can cause weight gain and steroid medications that are used for a variety of reasons can also cause lead to weight gain.
The good news about managing weight gain during chemotherapy is that the things that will help make you stronger and healthier to fight cancer are the same things that help you lose weight. A healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables is extremely beneficial towards weight loss and reduction of edema. Additionally, it is incredibly important to drink a lot of water every day. Avoid fat and any refined food such as white sugar or flour as they are known for increasing weight gain and are not good during cancer treatment. Lastly, cardiovascular activity and exercise is a great way to help stay strong and ward off weight gain. Before making any changes to your diet or increasing physical activity it is important to discuss the changes with your physician to ensure it is safe and in your best interest during treatment. If you notice weight gain it is also important to discuss it with your physician so that you can make a plan to maintain a healthy weight with your physician.