One-Third of Cancer Patients Are Malnourished

Those with head and neck cancers experience worst malnutrition following radiotherapy

THURSDAY, April 13 (HealthDay News) -- About a third of cancer patients are malnourished at the start of radiation treatment, which can worsen after radiotherapy, particularly in patients with head and neck cancers, according to a Turkish study in the April issue of the American Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Diclehan Unsal, M.D., and colleagues from Gazi University Faculty of Medicine in Ankara, Turkey, assessed the nutritional status of 207 patients with head/neck, breast, lung, stomach, or colorectal cancer before, after, three months and six months after receiving radiotherapy. Patients received additional portions of meal during and after irradiation if malnourished and standard enteral feeding formula if severely malnourished.

The researchers found that 31 percent of patients were malnourished before radiotherapy, which increased to 43 percent after radiotherapy. Malnutrition was worst in patients with head and neck cancers, with 24 percent of patients malnourished before and 88 percent malnourished after radiotherapy, while none of the breast cancer patients were ever severely malnourished. After six months, only 8 percent of patients were still malnourished, according to the study.

"This prospective study provides evidence that malnutrition is an important problem in cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy and that early assessment is the key to adequate nutritional support in malnourished patients," Unsal and colleagues conclude.

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