When Cancer Patients Need Nutritional Support

Cancer related malnutrition pinpointed with abbreviated form of standard test

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Cancer treatment changes the body’s metabolism. The body is working hard to fight the cancer and deal with side effects of therapy. Malnutrition can result. Now, identifying patients who need nutritional support may have gotten easier.

Researchers in Canada have tested the usefulness of a short, easy to take test to tell if cancer patients are malnourished. The tool is a shorter version of a standard test called Patient-Generated Subjective Global Assessment tool (PG-SGA).

The study found that the abbreviated version of the PG-SGA accurately identified patients who needed dietician services. Broad acceptance of this method could improve patient outcomes, the researchers suggested.

"During cancer treatment, have your nutritional status checked."

Pauline Darling, MSc, PhD, RD, a dietitian and researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, served as the senior study author.

"Having malnutrition is associated with a higher risk of mortality and the chemotherapy is less effective in patients who are malnourished," Dr. Darling said in a statement. She said it’s particularly important to catch malnourishment early on before it becomes difficult to treat and reverse.

Dr. Darling and colleagues understand that patients and clinicians can forget about the importance of nutrition, partly because testing for problems is so time consuming, requiring completion of a lengthy survey and a physical exam.

"We need a tool in place that's easy, quick and effective because otherwise it's difficult to identify which patients need the most help," Dr. Darling said.

The goal of this small study was to test the effectiveness of an abbreviated version of the PG-SGA (abPG-SGA), which features fewer questions and no physical exam. The tool is used by some cancer care groups, but no study has ever validated its accuracy.

For this study, researchers worked with 90 patients undergoing chemotherapy between January and June 2008. All of the patients were being treated at the outpatient oncology clinic of St. Michael's Hospital.

The test found that more than one-third of the patients – 36 percent – were malnourished. Researchers concluded that the abPG-SGA was both effective and efficient in identifying patients who needed to be referred to a dietician for a nutrition evaluation. 

"This is a large number of people and it speaks to the importance of using a reliable approach to correctly identify the patients that are top priority from a nutrition standpoint," said Dr. Darling, who is also a scientist at the hospital's Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute.

Results from this study were published February 15 in the journal Nutrition and Cancer.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 19, 2013
Last Updated:
February 21, 2013