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Treating Breast Cancer Early

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Maintaining Your Weight During Breast Cancer Treatment

Medically Reviewed By Amy Tiersten, MD

One of the side effects of breast cancer treatment may be losing weight. Boosting your calorie intake can help you maintain a moderate weight and nourish your body.

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Cancer treatment can be stressful for your body. Some people gain weight during treatment, and some people lose weight. Many people with breast cancer gain some weight during treatment because of hormonal changes or a type of swelling known as lymphedema. Other people may lose weight and notice a decreased appetite.

Losing too much weight can put your health and recovery at risk. If you’re concerned about losing weight while undergoing breast cancer treatment, talk with your doctor about ways to adjust your nutrition plan.

Why you may lose weight during treatment 

According to the American Cancer Society Trusted Source American Cancer Society Highly respected international organization Go to source , some people lose weight during breast cancer treatment due to cancer cachexia. This kind of weight loss results from an increase in the amount of calories the body needs, causing low levels of protein, nutrients, and vitamins.

When you have cancer, your body may respond by producing inflammation, which may use up extra calories. Also, you may have changes in your appetite during treatment. Vomiting and diarrhea can be side effects of treatment and may cause weight loss. 

A 2021 study suggested people who undergo surgery and chemotherapy may experience side effects in the early months after surgery that may lead to weight loss.

For example, chemotherapy can leave an unpleasant metallic taste in your mouth that changes how food tastes. According to the National Cancer Institute, constipation is also a common side effect of chemotherapy, which can reduce your interest in eating.

How to maintain your weight during treatment

If you’d like to regain your lost weight, talk with your doctor to get specific recommendations.

Your doctor might advise trying some of these strategies to maintain your weight:

  • Drink water between meals so you don’t fill up with liquids instead of food at mealtime.
  • Add high calorie foods, such as sour cream, butter, or cream cheese, to boost your calorie intake.
  • Eat your favorite foods when you have specific cravings. Yes, you can have pizza for breakfast.
  • Enjoy a milkshake, smoothie, or protein shake.
  • Look for ways to add protein to your diet, with bars or protein powder.
  • Snack on foods that are high in calories and protein, like nuts, dried fruit, or peanut butter

You can also consider talking with a registered dietitian to follow a customized nutritional plan that considers your specific needs, the kind of treatment you’re receiving, and its side effects. They can also keep an eye on whether you’re showing any signs of malnutrition, which might not be apparent if you look at weight loss Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source .

Good nutrition matters

When you consider your diet, remember that it’s not just about weight maintenance. It can be beneficial to prioritize eating foods that will nourish your body and help you recover.

Malnutrition is a very common occurrence among people getting treatment for cancer. Researchers estimate that 40–80% Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source of people with cancer experience malnutrition. Getting the right nutrients can help you manage treatment and get back to your usual activities.

It’s always a good idea to contact your oncology team if you have any concerns about your breast cancer treatment, including weight changes. You and your doctor can work together to ensure your well-being during this season.

Was this helpful?
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  1. Constipation: Cancer treatment side effect. (2021). https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/constipation
  2. Fukui J, et al. (2021). Weight changes according to treatment in a diverse cohort of breast cancer patients. https://bmccancer.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12885-021-08740-5
  3. Ravasco P. (2019). Nutrition in cancer patients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723589/
  4. Rock CL, et al. (2020). American cancer society guideline for diet and physical activity. https://acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.3322/caac.21591
  5. Weight changes. (2022). https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/eating-problems/weight-changes.html

Medical Reviewer: Amy Tiersten, MD
Last Review Date: 2023 Mar 23
View All Treating Breast Cancer Early Articles
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