New research in mice has revealed that the wasting disease associated with some cancers can affect the heart.
Before now, cachexia, characterized by muscle wasting and dramatic weight loss, was believed to spare the heart.
But an Ohio State University study showed that the condition reduces heart function and changes the heart muscle structure in mice with colon cancer.
Previous studies have suggested that cachexia is responsible for between one-fifth and one-third of all cancer deaths.
But many aspects of the condition remain misunderstood, including its cause and ways to predict who is at highest risk for the syndrome.
These new study findings could have immediate implications for treatment, said Martha Belury, lead author of the research and a professor of human nutrition at Ohio State.
"I think if we know certain types of cancer are associated with this wasting disease, it might be important to think about heart function earlier rather than once people are starting to lose weight. Clinicians could try to protect the heart while also giving patients chemotherapy for cancer and perhaps added nutrition to maintain weight," Belury said.
"The fatigue and weakness of cachexia have been attributed to skeletal muscle wasting. But our results support the idea that insufficient heart performance might also be responsible for fatigue symptoms, leading to less exercise and more severe muscle wasting. It's a vicious cycle that contributes to the complications of cancer cachexia."
The study is published in a recent issue of the International Journal of Oncology.