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September 18, 2014

Malnutrition & Cancer

“Weight loss in cancer patients is due to depletion of both adipose tissue and skeletal muscle mass, while the non-muscle protein compartment is relatively preserved thus distinguishing cachexia from simple starvation”.
-Michael Tisdale, Professor of Cancer Biochemistry, Aston University
What this means is when a person without cancer loses weight intentionally or unintentionally, they lose primarily fat (adipose tissue). Weight loss for a cancer patient is much more detrimental; in addition to losing fat, they also lose muscle. This indiscriminate type of weight loss places cancer patients at great risk for serious infections like pneumonia, which causes a disruption to their treatment plan.

Malnutrition prevalence in cancer patients varies widely from 20% to 80% based on the site of their primary tumor. A weight loss of 10% of a person’s weight pre-cancer increases their risk of all-cause mortality while going through cancer treatment. Notice, there is no mention of whether or not a person’s starting weight was considered within normal limits or healthy; even when someone is obese at the beginning of cancer treatment, our goal should always be to help their weight stay stable throughout treatment.

As dietitians, our primary goal in working with cancer patients is weight stability which in turn reduces disruption to treatment and protects a patient’s performance status. Providing the high quality nutrient dense foods that we do at Food & Friends helps make weight stability an achievable goal for our clients.


Robin Brannon, MS, RD,CSO, Nutrition Services Manager

Robin Brannon is the Nutrition Services Manager at Food & Friends. Previously she spent three years as the Clinical Nutrition Manager at The George Washington University Hospital. She serves as the associate editor for Oncology Nutrition Connection, the peer-reviewed journal of the Oncology Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group. She also serves on the Chesapeake Food Leadership Council, The Dietetics Program Advisory Board at the University of the District of Columbia, and Patient Education Committee Member of the Aplastic Anemia & MDS International Foundation. Robin earned a Masters in Clinical Nutrition from New York University, and a specialty certification in oncology nutrition from the Commission on Dietetic Registration. She received her Bachelor’s in Dietetics from College of the Ozarks.


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