Malnutrition in Cancer

Malnutrition in cancer patients leads to complications, poorer quality life, and increasing costs to healthcare systems

Patients with cancer are more likely to develop malnutrition; level of risk is dependent on cancer type, stage or the patients’ age. It has been reported up to 70% of cancer patients can become malnourished. Patients with gastro-intestinal cancers, at more advanced cancer stages or older patients are more likely to develop malnutrition due to the disease.

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

Nutritional care should be an integral part of cancer care across Europe

Cancer related malnutrition affects patients and adds burden to healthcare systems, yet it is not sufficiently addressed. 

Cancer treatment typically targets cancerous cells and tumours, while cancer related symptoms and complications are not routinely addressed and integrated in the care pathway, despite their significant impact on patients’ outcomes.

A recent World Health Organization (WHO) report  notes that appropriate nutritional care helps cancer patients cope better with their illness and treatment

MNI calls to improve cancer care through medical nutrition in Europe

MNI calls for a transformation of current oncology care models as follows:

  • Healthcare professionals, patient advocated and cancer patients should be better informed and educated on malnutrition & nutritional care during cancer treatment.
  • Therapeutic approaches should be delivered by a multidisciplinary team, including a dietitian or a nutritionist.
  • Malnutrition screening should be mandatory at diagnosis and monitored throughout the treatment.
  • Existing clinical guidelines on nutritional care for cancer patients should be implemented in routine treatment protocols, including timely use of medical nutrition.
  • Patients should have equal access to medical nutrition. 

Call for Action - Healthcare experts call to improve the nutritional care of cancer patients

WHO report on cancer: setting priorities, investing wisely and providing care for all


Value of Medical Nutrition in Oncology - Evidence Dossier 2020

Infographic "Cancer care: why nutrition matters"

Christine - cancer patient on home parenteral nutrition

Integrating nutritional therapy in cancer treatment

Europe's Beating Cancer Plan

MNI welcomes the European Commission initiative Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan’ aiming to tackle the second leading cause of mortality in the European Union and calls to make nutritional interventions an integral part of 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 

Press Release - MNI and SNE welcome the multi-disciplinary approach proposed under Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan (February 2021)

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

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

European Commission - EU policy on cancer


    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)