Loss of weight and loss of appetite in advanced cancer: a problem for the patient, the carer, or the health professional?

Palliat Med. 2002 Nov;16(6):499-506. doi: 10.1191/0269216302pm593oa.


This paper aims to examine the loss of weight and loss of appetite as 'problems' experienced by patients with advanced cancer and those that care for them. It reports the results of a systematic search of the literature and presents the findings as a narrative review. Research to date has focused upon charting the prevalence and incidence of these symptoms, but little empirical work has been conducted to investigate how patients and carers experience these problems. There is some evidence to suggest that anorexia may be more distressing for those caring for the patient than the person suffering from the symptom itself. Understanding the reason for this anguish requires an appreciation of the meaning of food refusal and constitutes the first step towards informing the development of effective interventions. Such exploratory work is mandatory if health professionals wish to move beyond speculation and deliver interventions that provide meaningful benefits for the cancer patient and their family.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Appetite / physiology
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / physiopathology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Weight Loss* / physiology