Malnutrition in Cancer

1 in 3 cancer patients are malnourished. Malnutrition in cancer patients leads to poorer health outcomes, muscle loss, organ damage, immune system disfunction, diminished tolerability of chemotherapy and increased mortality. 

Despite efficient screening tools, cancer-related malnutrition often remains underdiagnosed or diagnosed too late.  MNI calls for screening of cancer patients once the cancer diagnosis is established.

Timely nutritional interventions - early on during cancer treatment - can help patients better cope with the treatment, improve quality of life and lead to better health outcomes by improving muscle mass, and tolerance of anti-cancer therapies (as also indicated in a recent WHO report).

Furthermore, malnutrition results in an increased burden to healthcare resources, with an estimated cost of €17 billion/year in the EU.

MNI call to integrate nutritional care in cancer treatment. In the framework of the Europe's Beating Cancer Plan, MNI calls upon the EU institutions to adopt concrete measures to address the nutritional needs of cancer patients:

  • Screening and monitoring all cancer patients for malnutrition in a timely manner
  • Implementing clinical guidelines on nutritional care in cancer treatment across Europe
  • Establishing multidisciplinary care teams which include a dietitian or a qualified nutritionist
  • Providing equal access to, and reimbursement of, medical nutrition 
  • Educating healthcare professionals and patient advocates on malnutrition 

Read more:

Press Release - European Week Against Cancer: 1 in 3 cancer patients are malnourished and need nutritional care (May 2020)

MNI contribution to the Roadmap of Europe's Beating Cancer Plan (February 2020)

Press Release - Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan: MNI and SNE call for nutritional care to be an integral part of cancer care (February 2020)

World Health Organisation - WHO report on cancer: setting priorities, investing wisely and providing care for all (2020)

European Commission - EU policy on cancer



    Infographic "Cancer care: why nutrition matters"

    Christine - cancer patient on home parenteral nutrition

    Integrating nutritional therapy in cancer treatment

    Joint Statement - Making cancer-related complications and comorbidities an EU health priority

    A joint statement by several European and national associations - supported by MNI - refers to malnutrition as one of the burden of cancer-related complications and comorbidities:

    Malnutrition (undernutrition): Many cancer patients have a normal weight or are even overweight or obese, but still have a significant weight loss and underlying hidden sarcopenia (i.e. characteristics of malnutrition) which is responsible for the poor outcomes related to malnutrition. It is estimated that the deaths of 10-20% of patients with cancer can be attributed to malnutrition rather than to the malignancy itself. Thus, nutrition is an important aspect of multimodal cancer care. Yet, recent studies in European hospitals found that only 30%-60% of patients with cancer who were at risk of malnutrition actually received nutritional support (i.e., oral nutritional supplements, enteral and/or parenteral nutrition). 

    Download the Joint Statement from the website of the European Cancer Patients Coalition (ECPC)