Nutritional support/artificial feeding and cancer

Cancer, or the effects of cancer treatments, can sometimes result in malnutrition and weight loss.

Malnutrition is when the body isn't getting enough vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to keep it healthy. This may be because you have a reduced appetite or difficulty swallowing.

These problems may only happen for a short time. Changes to your diet or supplementing it with nutritious drinks is sometimes all you need. However, for some people this won't be enough to keep their weight up, or they may be unable to swallow or have difficulty doing so.

If you aren't able to eat or drink enough to maintain your weight, your doctors or dietitian may advise that you have nutritional support (artificial feeding). This can seem overwhelming at first. However, there are many advantages to having nutritional support, which usually helps people overcome their worries.

Nutritional support is used to help people who aren't able to eat or drink in the usual way. It can:

  • prevent weight loss
  • help people who need to put on weight
  • help to overcome weakness or tiredness
  • make sure that people are getting enough liquid
  • ease the pressure of having to eat - for example, if people have problems swallowing and find it difficult to eat.

Why nutritional support is used

Generally, nutritional support is needed if a person:

  • has difficulty swallowing - for example due to cancer of the throat or gullet, or because of a sore mouth due to radiotherapy
  • has unintentional weight loss (usually 10% or more of their body weight) that is not helped by dietary supplements
  • has been unable to eat or drink enough, and dietary supplements haven't helped.