Weight changes after cancer treatment

Cancer survivors often complain of changes in their body weight and fat distribution following treatment. 

Weight gain

Often people expect that cancer or treatment for cancer will cause weight loss, but you may find that you have gained weight or may have fat in different places. For example, after hormone therapy you may start to carry more weight around your middle. During cancer treatment you may have been less active than usual, which could also make you gain weight.   
You may find it harder to lose weight after cancer treatment, but it is important to find a weight loss program that works for you. Increasing evidence indicates that being overweight increases the risk of cancer coming back. Therefore keeping a healthy weight, eating well and exercising regularly may help prevent your from cancer coming back.   

Weight loss 

Sometimes cancer and its treatment may cause you to lose weight, particularly if you were diagnosed with cancer of the mouth, digestive tract, stomach or bowel. 
Normally this weight loss does not last long. But for some it can be a more permanent change. These changes may be due to swelling and bruising after surgery, irritation after radiation, nausea, taste changes or loss of appetite.  After treatment has ended it may become a struggle to increase and maintain weight.

What medical help is available for weight gain or weight loss?

If you need help with becoming or keeping a healthy weight ask your GP or hospital doctor to refer you to a dietitian. He or she can help you to plan a healthy diet to help you gain or lose weight, depending on your needs. The dietician may also advise supplements. 

How can I cope better with weight gain or weight loss?

It is normally possible to regain a healthy weight after cancer treatment. Exercising and eating well can also help you recover faster and improve some other side-effects of treatment such as fatigue and mood changes. See our sections Be a healthy body weight and Eat a healthy diet for more information on keeping a healthy weight after your treatment.

Our booklet Diet and Cancer has lots of tips on eating healthily, whether you are trying to lose weight or gain weight.

Call our Cancer Nurseline

Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 7pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm
Date Last Reviewed: 
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Date Last Revised: 
Tuesday, November 24, 2015