Could it be cancer?


“My friend next door has lost a lot of weight pretty fast. I asked her what diet she was on and she said she wasn’t. And she hasn’t been taking one of those drugs. But she does like how she looks in her clothes. Somehow to me that might be a problem. Is it?”


Yes, that is very likely a problem, maybe serious and maybe not.

Stress, depression, and illness can impact eating, resulting in weight loss. I have a friend who lost her appetite and a fair amount of weight when her husband died. In time she got the appetite and weight back (plus the inevitable extra). Might any of these apply to your friend?

One possibility is that she has an eating disorder. While most such disorders start in youth, they can appear in adults. In a variety of forms (simply not eating, binging and purging, etc.) an eating disorder is an effort to stay thin in highly unhealthy ways.

People with eating disorders are sometimes skilled at hiding them from others. My daughter was once a waitress at a high end restaurant. She had a regular customer who always ordered a big meal but the food inevitably ended up on the floor, one bit at a time.

And it is possible that your friend might be using one of the weight loss drugs such as Ozempic. But apparently she already said she didn’t. Maybe she would have told you if she was.

Another uncomfortable possibility is cancer.

Your body cells normally have a well governed cycle, getting to the appropriate size for their purpose in your body. They grow, divide, die, and then new cells take their place. Cancer starts with one cell which grows and divides perpetually and won’t die if it can help it.

Most new cancer cells are recognized and eliminated in their earliest stages by the immune system. But sometimes that doesn’t work.

Consequently some cancer cells multiply and grow into recognizable tumors, sometimes metastasizing to other parts of the body. That might happen slowly or very quickly. Cancer cells are not efficient in using energy so they need a lot of it to keep growing. They will use whatever energy is available – glucose when available, body fat when it’s available. And when the body needs to protect you from starvation (a desperation move) your liver will convert muscle protein to glucose. Cancer uses that glucose too.

In other words, as the energy demands of cancer grow, the more the rest of the body is deprived of resources. People lose body fat and muscle. If not deprived of energy (which is tricky to do without depriving the other normal cells) or killed surgically/chemically, cancer will eventually starve the whole body in the interest of feeding itself.

When the loss of weight isn’t intentionally caused by a diet and cannot be explained by an illness, depression, stress, or an eating disorder, a doctor will quickly start testing to see if cancer has reared its ugly head somewhere.

While I can’t imagine suggesting to my own friend that she might have cancer, I can imagine wondering aloud if she should consult her doctor about this unintentional weight loss.

I would suggest the same for anyone reading this article who has any significant and unexplained weight loss. The earlier the diagnosis the better.


Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All about the Food,” a book available on Amazon and Bob’s Food City (Mt. Ida) that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Proceeds from her book benefit the Montgomery County Food Pantry. Her website is She can be contacted at, 501-605-3902. Her Facebook page is