Cancer Cachexia: Cause, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Abstract

Patients with cancer frequently experience unintended weight loss due to gastrointestinal (GI) dysfunction caused by the malignancy or treatment of the malignancy. However, others may present with weight loss related to other symptoms not clearly associated with identifiable GI dysfunction such as anorexia and early satiety. Cancer cachexia (CC) is a multifactorial syndrome that is generally characterized by ongoing loss of skeletal muscle mass with or without fat loss, often accompanied by anorexia, weakness, and fatigue. CC is associated with poor tolerance of antitumor treatments, reduced quality of life (QOL), and negative impact on survival. Symptoms associated with CC are thought to be caused in part by tumor-induced changes in host metabolism that result in systemic inflammation and abnormal neurohormonal responses. Unfortunately, there is no single standard treatment for CC. Nutrition consequences of oncologic treatments should be identified early with nutrition screening and assessment. Pharmacologic agents directed at improving appetite and countering metabolic abnormalities that cause inefficient nutrient utilization are currently the foundation for treating CC. Multiple agents have been investigated for their effects on weight, muscle wasting, and QOL. However, few are commercially available for use. Considerations for choosing the most appropriate treatment include effect on appetite, weight, QOL, risk of adverse effects, and cost and availability of the agent.

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