While not all cancer patients lose weight with the disease, those who do so tend to have a poorer prognosis for treatment outcome and long-term survival, said Jennifer Garst, M.D., a study author and assistant professor of oncology at the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Thus, finding ways to prevent weight loss and nutritional deficits is critical to helping patients respond more effectively to treatments and even live longer, she said. The scientists are now continuing the study to explore the whether the addition of flavor-enhancing powders, derived from actual foods such as cheese, bacon, garlic and fruits, can improve the patients' appetite.
Results of the study are being presented at the annual Association of Chemoreception Sciences by the study's co-author, Susan Schiffman, Ph.D., on April 25. Jennifer Zervakis, Ph.D. and Lara Campagna are also authors of the study, funded by the National Institute on Aging.
"Weight loss has long been a hallmark of cancer, but it has been considered an inevitable byproduct of the disease process and chemotherapy drugs, rather than as a treatable symptom that can affect outcomes," said Schiffman, professor of medical psychology at Duke. "If we can show that taste and smell deficits are responsible for the weight loss in a specific population of patients, then we can intervene and potentially improve patient outcomes."
More than just a nuisance, taste and smell deficits have been associated with reduced levels of key immune system cells, such as T-cells and B-cells, in elderly patients tested at Duke, said Schiffman.