Pathophysiology of malnutrition in the adult cancer patient

Cancer. 1986 Oct 15;58(8 Suppl):1867-73. doi: 10.1002/1097-0142(19861015)58:8+<1867::aid-cncr2820581413>;2-a.


A number of common metastatic cancers are associated with marked weight loss at the time of diagnosis. Cancer patients with weight loss at the time of diagnosis have decreased mean survival compared to similar cancer patients without weight loss. Provision of excess calories alone does not appear to change median survival in patients with advanced cancer and many patients either maintain body weight or lose weight while receiving calories which would be predicted to result in weight gain. The authors recently have extended their studies to head and neck cancer patients without detectable metastatic disease in order to detect systemic metabolic effects of a localized tumor. These patients failed to gain weight despite the administration of apparently adequate calories by continuous enteral alimentation. Abnormalities of carbohydrate metabolism with secondary effects on fat and protein metabolism have been identified in several populations of patients with common cancers. These abnormalities offer potential points of intervention which may enhance nutritional therapy as rehabilitation and as a potential biological modifier of the response of specific cancers to chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Weight
  • Energy Intake
  • Enteral Nutrition
  • Gluconeogenesis
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / complications*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Nitrogen / metabolism
  • Nutrition Disorders / etiology
  • Nutrition Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Nutrition Disorders / therapy


  • Nitrogen