World Cancer Day 2023: Exploring the Role of Medical Nutrition in Cancer Care

By DSM Pharma Solutions Editors
  • Due to the impact of cancer as well as its treatment, patients with the disease face an elevated risk for malnutrition that affects an estimated 20-80% of them globally.1,2,3,4,5,6
  • This World Cancer Day, 4 February, we dive into the science-backed benefits of complementing disease-modifying oncology therapies with targeted medical nutrition solutions to improve treatment efficacy and patient outcomes. 
  • Explore the latest insights on the effects of disease-related malnutrition and how tailored medical nutrition solutions present new opportunities for pharmaceutical companies to better support patients with more comprehensive therapeutic offerings

Reflecting on World Cancer Day 2023

As the second-leading cause of death globally, cancer takes the lives of 10 million people every year.7 From leukemia to carcinomas, there are different types of cancers and a whole host of lifestyle-related and non-modifiable risk factors that impact its incidence. However, suitable strategies for cancer prevention, early detection and treatment could help save millions of lives. This World Cancer Day, we will explore the opportunity to better support patients with cancer by integrating medical nutrition with oncology therapies.

The impact of cancer-related malnutrition

Patients with cancer face an elevated risk for malnutrition due to the impact of the disease as well as its treatment. In fact, worldwide studies show that between 20-80% of individuals with the condition suffer from malnutrition, with incidence rates varying according to factors that range from age to cancer stage and disease-modifying therapy methods.1,2,3,4,5,6 Disease-related malnutrition is typically characterized by reduced dietary intake, malabsorption of nutrients, increased nutrient losses or altered metabolic demands that can trigger tissue breakdown, significant weight loss, changes in body composition and declining physical and mental function.8

10-20% of deaths in patients with cancer are associated with malnutrition.1,9,10 By potentially increasing the toxicity of pharmaceutical drugs and accelerating drug catabolism, malnutrition can have a negative impact on the efficacy of oncology treatment and increase the risk of adverse symptoms.11,12 Even though disease-related malnutrition significantly impacts patient health and wellbeing, clinical outcomes, cost of care and quality of life,13,14,15 only around 30-60% of patients with cancer receive the nutritional support they need.2,16 All this suggests that optimal nutrition can play a pivotal role in supporting patients with cancer at various disease and treatment phases – and should be implemented as a key element of cancer care.

Improving cancer prognosis with medical nutrition

Encompassing a range of specialized nutritional therapy products from oral supplements to enteral and parenteral (intravenous) feeding modalities, medical nutrition can help patients to address disease-related nutritional deficiencies. This is especially crucial when they’re unable to meet their dietary requirements via normal food intake. Growing evidence suggests that tailored medical nutrition combined with drug therapies, such as chemotherapy and surgery, could be a game-changer for patients with cancer.18

Integrating medical nutrition into multimodal therapeutic care plans has numerous advantages. It can reverse the negative effects of malnutrition, promote healthy immune system function, maximize the efficacy of drug therapies, and improve patient outcomes, quality of life and prognosis – thereby reducing healthcare costs and the rate of hospital readmissions. One randomized controlled trial discovered that early nutritional intervention improved the quality of life of patients with various types of cancer and significantly increased the survival rates of patients when combined with anticancer treatment.19 Another meta-analysis demonstrated that targeted nutrition increased the body weight of patients receiving chemoradiotherapy.20

Exploring opportunities in medical nutrition

To effectively support patient health and support the efficacy of disease modifying therapies, pharmaceutical companies can consider combining their pharmacological drug offerings with specialized nutritional products designed to combat disease-related malnutrition.

Download our whitepaper to learn more about the advantages of pairing medical nutrition solutions with disease-modifying therapies and the wide range of opportunities to develop these complementary nutritional solutions to improve the lives of patients with cancer.

To read more about the potential of medical nutrition solutions and the role they can play in cancer care, download our whitepaper.


  1. Wie et al. Prevalence and risk factors of malnutrition among cancer patients according to tumor location and stage in the National Cancer Center in Korea. Nutrition, vol. 26, pg. 263-268, 2010.
  2. Hebuterne et al. Prevalence of malnutrition and current use of nutrition support in patients with cancer. J Parenter Enteral. 
    vol. 38, pg. 196-204, 2014.
  3. Silva et al. Factors associated with malnutrition in hospitalized cancer patients: a cross-sectional study.
    Nutr J., vol. 14, pg. 123, 2015.
  4. Freijer et al. The economic costs of disease related malnutrition. Clin Nutr., vol. 32, pg. 136-141, 2013.
  5. Aaldriks et al. Frailty and malnutrition predictive of mortality risk in older patients with advanced colorectal cancer receiving chemotherapy. J Geriatr Oncol., vol. 4, pg. 218-226, 2013.
  6. Maasberg et al. Malnutrition predicts clinical outcome in patients with neuroendocrine neoplasias. Neuroendocrinology, vol. 104, pg. 11-25, 2017.
  7. Visit World Cancer Day 4 Februar. "What is Cancer?" website to learn more. 
  8. Cederholm et al. ESPEN guidelines on definitions and terminology of clinical nutrition, Clin Nutr., vol. 36, no.1, pg. 49-64, 2017.
  9. Pressoir et al. Prevalence, risk factors and clinical implications of malnutrition in French Comprehensive Cancer Centres. Br J Cancer, vol. 102, pg. 966-971, 2010.
  10. Sesterhenn et al. Significance of autopsy in patients with head and neck cancer. Laryngorhinootologie, vol. 91, pg. 375-380, 2012.
  11. Turner et al. Pembrolizumab exposure-response assessments challenged by association of cancer cachexia and catabolic clearance. Clin Cancer Res., vol. 24, pg. 5841–5849, 2018.
  12. Aaldriks et al. Frailty and malnutrition predictive of mortality risk in older patients with advanced colorectal cancer receiving chemotherapy. J Geriatr Oncol., vol. 4, pg. 218-226, 2013.
  13. Hiura et al. Malnutrition diagnosis in critically ill patients using 2012 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics/American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition standardized diagnostic characteristics is associated with longer hospital and intensive care unit length of stay and increased in-hospital mortality. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr., vol. 44, pg. 256–64, 2020.
  14. Felder et al. Association of nutritional risk and adverse medical outcomes across different medical inpatient populations. Nutrition, vol. 31, pg. 1385–93, 2015.
  15. Felder et al. Unraveling the link between malnutrition and adverse clinical outcomes: association of acute and chronic malnutrition measures with blood biomarkers from different pathophysiological states. Ann Nutr Metab., vol. 68, pg. 164–72, 2016.
  16. Planas et al. Prevalence of hospital malnutrition in cancer patients: a sub-analysis of the PREDyCES study. Support Care Cancer, vol. 24, pg. 429-435, 2016.
  17. Visit Medical Nutrition International Industry. "Medical Nutrition" website to learn more. 
  18. Richards et al. Impact of early incorporation of nutrition interventions as a component of cancer therapy in adults: A review. Nutrients, vol. 12, no. 11, pg. 1, 2020.
  19. Bargetzi et al. Nutritional support during the hospital stay reduces mortality in patients with different types of cancers: secondary analysis of a prospective randomized trial. Ann Oncol., vol. 32, pg. 1025–33, 2021.
  20. Mae de van der Schueren. Systematic review and meta-analysis of the evidence for oral nutritional intervention on nutritional and clinical outcomes during chemo(radio)therapy: current evidence and guidance for design of future trials. Ann Oncol., vol. 29, pg. 1141–53, 2018.

Published on

02 February 2023

4 minutes

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