Muscle Wasting - Cachexia in NSCLC Patients
Tackling the Conundrum of Cachexia in Cancer
By some estimates, nearly one-third of cancer deaths can be attributed to a wasting syndrome called cachexia that can be devastating for patients and their families. Characterized by a dramatic loss of skeletal muscle mass and often accompanied by substantial weight loss, cachexia (pronounced kuh-KEK-see-uh) is a form of metabolic mutiny in which the body overzealously breaks down skeletal muscle and adipose tissue, which stores fat. Patients suffering from cachexia are often so frail and weak that walking can be a Herculean task.
Cachexia occurs in many cancers, usually at the advanced stages of disease. It is most commonly seen in a subset of cancers, led by pancreatic and gastric cancer, but also lung, esophageal, colorectal, and head and neck cancer.
Despite cachexia's impact on mortality and data strongly suggesting that it hinders treatment responses and patients' ability to tolerate treatment, researchers who study muscle wasting say it has not received the attention it deserves. No effective therapies have been developed to prevent or hamper its progression. Even for patients who are able to eat—appetite suppression or anorexia is a common cachexia symptom—improved nutrition often offers no respite.
There really is an enormous therapeutic opportunity here.
And yet, over the last few years, researchers have begun to better understand the underlying biology of cancer-related cachexia. Findings from several studies point to potentially powerful therapeutic approaches, and a number of clinical trials of investigational drugs and drugs approved for other uses have been conducted or are under way.
"It's exciting to see several avenues of investigation coming to the forefront and trials moving forward," said Dr. Aminah Jatoi, a medical oncologist at the Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center.
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