Health Questions and Answers

Question: What relationship does malnutrition have to chemotherapy for cancer?


   Severely malnourished patients have a diminished response to chemotherapy. These patients have difficulty completing the chemotherapy regime, being more likely to have hematopoietic side effects. Chemotherapy contributes to host malnutrition. Cancer drugs tend to be toxic and produce nausea, vomiting, mucositis, and gastrointestinal dysfunction. These side effects, in the already malnourished cancer patients, will actually influence the outcome of chemotherapy, by causing increased treatment morbidity and mortality.
There is little proof, however, that providing nutritional support to the patient undergoing chemotherapy will improve results, although it will increase the  tolerance to chemotherapy and lower the impact of toxic side effects. A number of explanations have been offered for this, of which the most appealing is that the nutritional support feeds the tumor and helps the tumor survive the chemotherapy. But there is no clinical evidence that this is true.

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