Can Chemotherapy Affect My Metabolism?

Question: Can chemotherapy for breast cancer affect my metabolism?

Answer: It's not really clear whether chemotherapy can affect the metabolism, although some recent studies suggest that it may actually affect the metabolism to some degree. With adjuvant chemotherapy in women with breast cancer -- that's chemotherapy given to prevent a recurrence of cancer -- weight gain is a very common problem, and in many studies weight gain affects well over half of the patients who are receiving chemotherapy. This seems to be more common with somewhat longer chemotherapy regimens than shorter ones, and it's a side effect that really bothers people.

For many years, people thought that women gained weight with breast cancer because they were just eating too much: that they were nauseated with the treatment and that to deal with the nausea they were eating all of the time. Many studies have actually looked at this issue and have found that women taking chemotherapy don't seem to eat any more than they did before the chemotherapy. And some recent studies have suggested that there may be some subtle changes in metabolism. I think one of the best things that people can do to try to help prevent this is to be aware of the problem, to try to maintain as much physical activity as possible, and to try to a reasonable degree to pay attention to what you're eating while you're getting chemotherapy.

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