A report from Germany shows that when a person over 50 loses more that 10 pounds without trying, his doctor will find a cause more than 80 percent of the time.

Sixty percent will have a non-cancerous cause; 25 percent will have a hidden cancer, and 11 percent will have a serious psychological problem. One out of three older people with unexplained weight loss will have a disease affecting the gastrointestinal tract. Half of the cancers will be in the stomach, intestines, colon, liver or pancreas. The next most common causes are diseases that prevent absorption of food.

Every older person with unexplained weight loss needs X rays of the stomach and colon, a sonogram of the abdomen to look for cancer of the pancreas, liver or ovaries; and a sonogram of the prostate looking for prostate cancer, or a mammogram looking for breast cancer.

Unintentional weight loss: diagnosis and prognosis. The first prospective follow-up study from a secondary referral centre. PG Lankisch, M Gerzmann, JF Gerzmann, D Lehnick. Journal of Internal Medicine, 2001, Vol 249, Iss 1, pp 41-46. Lankisch PG, Staedt Klinikum Lueneburg, Med Klin, Boegelstr 1, D-21339 Lueneburg, GERMANY

Checked 5/3/07

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