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$1.8m research grant brings hope to cancer patients suffering life threatening weight loss

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Published: 10 Dec 2008

Weight gain comes all too easily to most of us, especially during the festive season. For cancer patients however, weight gain is hard to achieve at any time of year.

Weight gain comes all too easily to most of us, especially during the festive season. For cancer patients however, weight gain is hard to achieve at any time of year. Fatigue, weight-loss and depression combine to cause a life-threatening condition known as the Anorexia Cachexia Syndrome (ACS), typified by malnutrition and loss of function. Researchers at the McGill University Health Centre Cancer Nutrition Rehabilitation Program – the only program of its kind in the world – recently received a $1.8 million grant from the Terry Fox Foundation to investigate new treatments and prevention of this devastating condition.

“Appetite loss with subsequent weight loss, caused by cancer or its treatment, is common in patients,” says medical oncologist Dr. Martin Chasen, Clinical Director of the Cancer Nutrition Rehabilitation Program. “If left unchecked it can lead to malnutrition, fatigue, and muscle wasting and ultimately the Anorexia Cachexia Syndrome – a serious condition that causes the death of many cancer patients.” Gary McCarrick, one of Dr. Chasen’s patients, lost 65 pounds after being diagnosed with head and neck cancer in 2007. “I suffered from constant nausea and had difficulty swallowing, which left me physically exhausted,” he says. “I felt like I was losing control of my life.”

Since 2002, the Cancer Nutrition Rehabilitation Program, located at the MUHC and Jewish General Hospital, has worked diligently to prevent and treat ACS. A multidisciplinary team of physicians, nurses, dieticians, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and psychologists, work together to design individualized rehabilitation programs consisting of dietary planning, exercise and counselling. “It’s the epitome of holistic care, and quite unique in the world,” says Dr. Chasen. After joining the program earlier this year Mr. McCarrick has started to regain weight. “I could still be at the hospital now, but I’m back home and feeling human again,” he says. “The team instils a ‘Yes We Can’ attitude in patients. This helps raise morale and fight the feeling of despair which I – like so many other cancer patients – experience after diagnosis.”

The Cancer Nutrition Rehabilitation Program has gone from strength to strength since its founding, but there remains a need for research to help improve our understanding of ACS. The Terry Fox Foundation’s $1.8 million grant will fund a new three-year project starting in the New Year. “This research endeavour will investigate the many aspects of Anorexia Cachexia Syndrome, from animal models and biological markers, to patients’ clinical experience,” says Dr. Bruno Gagnon a palliative care physician in the Cancer Nutrition Rehabilitation Program at the MUHC and principal investigator of the new research project. “It will increase our knowledge of how to prevent and treat this condition and ultimately allow us to develop effective therapies that will improve the quality of life of patients with cancer, of which there are 1.5 million in Canada alone.”

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About the McGill University Health Centre:
The McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) is a comprehensive academic health institution with an international reputation for excellence in clinical programs, research and teaching. Its partner hospitals are the Montreal Children's Hospital, the Montreal General Hospital, the Royal Victoria Hospital, the Montreal Neurological Hospital, the Montreal Chest Institute and the Lachine Hospital. The goal of the MUHC is to provide patient care based on the most advanced knowledge in the health care field and to contribute to the development of new knowledge. www.muhc.ca

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Contact: Ian Popple
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