A review of the drug treatment of cachexia associated with cancer

B Gagnon, E Bruera
Drugs 1998, 55 (5): 675-88
In the past 20 years, cachexia in cancer patients has attracted increasing interest from both clinicians and basic researchers. It is now clear that the cachexia is secondary to major metabolic abnormalities due to tumour by-products and cytokine release. These metabolic abnormalities produce numerous symptoms such as cachexia, anorexia and asthenia. There are now effective drugs such as corticosteroids and progestational drugs that have been shown to improve appetite, food intake and sensation of well-being, and which elicit bodyweight gain. While hydrazine (hydrazine sulfate) has received much attention, unfortunately it has been shown to be ineffective in improving the symptoms of the patient with cancer cachexia. A new group of drugs, such as thalidomide and melatonin because of their effects on tumour necrosis factor-alpha, and beta 2-adrenoceptor agonists because of their effects on muscle metabolism, and other agents, is presently reaching the clinical trial stage. There is now the possibility of addressing this fascinating syndrome at a different level and an opportunity for combined therapy to try to improve the quality of life of these patients.

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