Appetite Stimulants & Cancer

Updated March 13, 2018

Lack of appetite is frequently one of the first noticeable side effects of cancer treatment. Lack of appetite may show itself in a number of ways: not feeling hungry, getting full faster than usual or feeling like normal portions of food are overwhelming. Not taking care of a poor appetite can lead to other problems, such as major weight loss, fatigue, dehydration and malnutrition. Doctors can prescribe appetite stimulants if you are struggling with poor appetite after cancer treatment.


Appetite stimulants are only prescribed for severe cases of weight loss. Severe weight loss is generally described as losing more than 10 per cent of your normal body weight according to The Diet Channel. Doctors also prescribe appetite stimulants if you are at risk for malnutrition. The stimulant will help increase your appetite. Medications may begin to take effect immediately or could take up to a few weeks to work. Not all medications will work for everyone. Your oncologist will help you choose the correct medication if you need an appetite stimulant.


Megace is also known as megestrol and megestrol acetate. Megace is a hormone therapy that is used as an appetite stimulant in cancer patients. Megace is available as a tablet or in a liquid form. Doctors prescribe the correct dose of Megace based on your height and weight, general health and type of cancer you have. Side effects that occur in 10 per cent to 29 per cent of patients include weight gain, swelling in the feet and hands and breakthrough menstrual bleeding, according to


Marinol is also known as dronobinol and medical marijuana. Marinol was approved in the early 1980s after the National Cancer Institute informed the Drug Enforcement Administration of Marinol's usefulness toward relief of nausea and vomiting. It is available through prescription and is now used as an appetite stimulant for cancer patients. It comes in the form of a pill. The appetite stimulant can cause severe impairment to your central nervous system. You should not do anything that requires you to be alert while using Marinol.


Dexamethasone is also known as decadron, dexasone, diodex, hexadrol and maxidex. The drug is available in a pill form in a variety of tablet sizes. Dexamethasone can also be given intravenously. The doctor determines your dose of dexamethasone based on your general health. The following side effects occur in more than 30 per cent of patients: irritability, insomnia, fluid retention, heartburn, muscle weakness, increased blood sugar levels and problems with wounds healing. Headaches, dizziness, mood swings and cataracts and bone thinning occurred in more than 10 per cent of patients taking dexamethasone.

Other Options

Before prescribing appetite stimulants, doctors may try to offer other options to increase your appetite and food intake. This may include eating higher calorie foods, including protein drinks, milk and other dairy products, eggs and meat. Other options may include snacking throughout the day, setting a timer to remind yourself to eat, using a larger plate and keeping food where you can see it.

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About the Author

Tamara Runzel has been writing parenting, family and relationship articles since 2008. Runzel started in television news, followed by education before deciding to be a stay at home mom. She is now a mom of three and home schools her two oldest children. Runzel holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication from University of the Pacific.