Differentiating Sarcopenia and Cachexia Among Patients With Cancer

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Abstract

Patients with cancer are at an increased risk for muscle loss via 2 distinct mechanisms: sarcopenia, defined as the age-associated decrease in muscle mass related to changes in muscle synthesis signaling pathways, and/or cachexia, defined as cytokine-mediated degradation of muscle and adipose depots. Both wasting disorders are prevalent; among patients with cancer, 15%–50% are sarcopenic and 25%–80% are cachectic. Muscle mass may be difficult to quantify in overweight/obese individuals. Often, overweight/obese patients with cancer are assumed to be normally nourished when in fact severe muscle depletion may be present. No universally accepted treatment exists for preventing or reversing sarcopenia or cachexia in patients with cancer. Current treatment options are limited to nutrition therapy and exercise, which may lead to difficulties in adherence during cancer treatment. Future treatments may provide pharmaceutical therapy that targets muscle degradation and synthesis pathways. There is a need to determine a multimodal treatment plan for muscle depletion to improve quality of life, survival, and therapy complications in patients with cancer.

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