Update on anorexia and cachexia

Florian Strasser, Eduardo D Bruera
Hematology/oncology Clinics of North America 2002, 16 (3): 589-617
Declining physical, emotional, and social function as a result of anorexia and cachexia are considerable contributors to discomfort for cancer patients and their families, and they impair the patient's ability to express optimal physical and psychosocial potential as long as possible. This decline no longer has to be accepted as an indispensable sequel to advanced cancer, just as pain is no longer considered to be unavoidable. A routine screening for anorexia and cachexia and associated symptoms is necessary, as is a careful, comprehensive assessment, because the condition is not always obvious. Decisions about anorexia and cachexia treatment are guided by prioritizing the different, concurrent physical, psychosocial, and existential problems and by considering the natural course of the cancer and the effects of antineoplastic therapies. Reversible causes for anorexia and cachexia need to be identified and treated, if appropriate. Nutritional interventions are often indicated; patients with a predominant starvation component and without inflammation may profit the most. New pharmacologic therapies for primary anorexia and cachexia syndrome are expected to enter clinical practice soon; however, until then, treatment with corticosteroids, progestins, or prokinetics may be indicated for some patients. To understand a multicausal syndrome, multimodal and interdisciplinary therapy is required. Specialist palliative care services can be helpful to provide, hand-in-hand with the disease specialists [172], assessment and management of psychophysical symptoms and sociospiritual needs of patients during the course of the illness and at the end of life [173]. Research efforts aim to better characterize subgroups of patients suffering from secondary causes of anorexia and cachexia and to elucidate the mechanisms involved in the primary anorexia and cachexia syndrome. Increasingly individualized treatments are expected with combination treatments that involve different mechanisms including nutrition.

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