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Cancer-associated cachexia

Nature Reviews Disease Primers volume 4, Article number: 17105 (2018) | Download Citation

Abstract

Cancer-associated cachexia is a disorder characterized by loss of body weight with specific losses of skeletal muscle and adipose tissue. Cachexia is driven by a variable combination of reduced food intake and metabolic changes, including elevated energy expenditure, excess catabolism and inflammation. Cachexia is highly associated with cancers of the pancreas, oesophagus, stomach, lung, liver and bowel; this group of malignancies is responsible for half of all cancer deaths worldwide. Cachexia involves diverse mediators derived from the cancer cells and cells within the tumour microenvironment, including inflammatory and immune cells. In addition, endocrine, metabolic and central nervous system perturbations combine with these mediators to elicit catabolic changes in skeletal and cardiac muscle and adipose tissue. At the tissue level, mechanisms include activation of inflammation, proteolysis, autophagy and lipolysis. Cachexia associates with a multitude of morbidities encompassing functional, metabolic and immune disorders as well as aggravated toxicity and complications of cancer therapy. Patients experience impaired quality of life, reduced physical, emotional and social well-being and increased use of healthcare resources. To date, no effective medical intervention completely reverses cachexia and there are no approved drug therapies. Adequate nutritional support remains a mainstay of cachexia therapy, whereas drugs that target overactivation of catabolic processes, cell injury and inflammation are currently under investigation.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank R.J.E. Skipworth (University of Edinburgh) for his valuable input.

Author information

Author notes

    • Kenneth C. H. Fearon

    Deceased

Affiliations

  1. Division of Palliative Care Medicine, Department of Oncology, University of Alberta, Cross Cancer Institute 11560 University Avenue, Edmonton, T6G 1Z2 Alberta, Canada.

    • Vickie E. Baracos
  2. Department of Agricultural, Food & Nutritional Science, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

    • Lisa Martin
  3. Section of Endocrinology, Departments of Medicine and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA.

    • Murray Korc
  4. Department of Cancer Biology and Genetics, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA.

    • Denis C. Guttridge
  5. Clinical and Surgical Sciences, School of Clinical Sciences and Community Health, Royal Infirmary, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.

    • Kenneth C. H. Fearon

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Contributions

Introduction (V.E.B.); Epidemiology (L.M.); Mechanisms/pathophysiology (M.K. and D.C.G.); Diagnosis, screening and prevention (V.E.B.); Management (K.C.H.F.); Quality of life (V.E.B.); Outlook (V.E.B.); and Overview of the Primer (V.E.B.).

Competing interests

V.E.B. receives financial support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and The Alberta Cancer Foundation. L.M. is funded by Alberta Innovates, the Izaak Walton Killam Foundation and the American Society of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition. M.K. is partially funded by National Cancer Institute grant CA-075059 and by the consortium for the study of Chronic Pancreatitis, Diabetes and Pancreatic Cancer (U01 DK108323). D.C.G. receives funding support from the US NIH and from the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Vickie E. Baracos.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nrdp.2017.105

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