Purpose: This study investigated relationships between psychosocial and treatment-related factors, diet, and weight change in women treated with chemotherapy for early-stage breast cancer.
Methods: Comprehensive qualitative interviews were conducted with 28 women who were within 12 months of completing chemotherapy treatment.
Results: Changes in food intake and eating patterns were universal over the course of chemotherapy, with broad variability in treatment effects and associated dietary responses linked to weight change. Increased appetite, food cravings, and intake of energy-dense comfort foods were more common among women who gained weight during treatment (n = 11). Changes in taste, nausea, and emotional distress were central in promoting these dietary responses. Women who lost weight during treatment (n = 6) tended to report more severe and persistent side effects of treatment leading to poor appetite and lower food intake, and they were more likely to live alone.
Conclusions: While the etiology of weight change in this population is complex, this study suggests that changes in food intake related to treatment and psychosocial challenges may play an important role for some women. These findings may help to identify women who are most at risk of weight change during treatment and may inform the development of tailored dietary interventions.