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Muscle Mass and Nutrition for Cancer Patients

diet-1324036Oncology nutrition is important during one’s cancer treatment.  Sarcopenia is the medical term for loss of muscle mass. Muscle mass can be lost in patients of all weights whether you are thin, average or even in patients who are very overweight. Why is muscle mass so important? A recent study published in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society underscores and summarizes why it is so important to monitor loss of muscle mass in the cancer patient population.

As it turns out, loss of muscle mass is associated with and can predict if a patient is going to experience severe toxicity of their chemotherapy treatments. In several different studies of different types of cancer (e.g. breast, colorectal, esophageal) and with different chemotherapy regimens (e.g., 5FU, epirubicin, cyclophosphamide, capecitabine), researchers noticed that patients who had lost muscle mass experienced more than 30-50% higher levels of dose-limiting toxicity compared to those that did not have this condition. That means patients who had sarcopenia (muscle mass loss) could not tolerate the optimal dose of their chemotherapy. Patients who maintained and did not lose muscle mass were much better able to tolerate the optimal treatment dose. In this recently published study, CT scans were used to measure muscle mass; however, bio-impedance analysis is a less expensive and safer way to measure body muscle mass.

Measuring muscle mass is especially important because there are potential interventions that can help to improve muscle mass. The problem is that most patients do not have their muscle mass measured, and they do not understand what they can do to optimize their wellness.  Chemotherapy dosage is calculated based on a patient’s body weight, and while that will not change, it is essential also to ascertain body composition to help avoid chemotherapy toxicity.

It is also important to assess body composition to determine how much protein patients need to eat daily to maintain their muscle mass. Muscle mass may decrease with age and during treatment, however, appropriate resistance type activity, as well as sufficient dietary protein, can prevent sarcopenia and its associated condition of frailty.

Bioelectrical impedance is just one of the components of the Wellness Assessment at the Simms/Mann – UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology  The Simms/Mann Center’s Integrative Oncology Specialist Carolyn Katzin, MS, CNS, MNT, is available for those needing help with nutrition planning to help manage their body weight and muscle mass. She provides focused, practical and personalized information for patients and family members. With her extensive background in nutrition, integrative medicine, preventative health and complementary care she provides an individually tailored nutritional plan to optimize wellness.

Carolyn Katzin was a member of the workgroup that helped formulate the American Cancer Society Nutrition Guidelines. She has also written two books, The Cancer Nutrition Handbook, and The Everything Cancer-Fighting Cookbook, which are available on

It is strongly recommended that patients have their muscle mass measured and that they meet with a qualified professional to develop a nutrition plan for protein intake and weight resistance as part of their overall treatment plan.

For an appointment with Carolyn, who will help personalize recommendations, email For more information, go to  or call (310) 794-6644.

Interested in hearing Carolyn Katzin, MS, CNS, MNT, speak on nutrition and cancer? We welcome you to attend the upcoming free Insights Into Cancer lecture on “Nutrition and Cancer – Emotional Eating” taking place at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center on March 8th, 2016 from 7 pm – 9 pm. For more information, click here.

To view the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society’s study on “Sarcopenia and cachexia in the era of obesity: clinical and nutritional impact,” click here.

1 Comment
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