Cachexia is a serious health condition that goes beyond simple
weight loss. Clinicians and scientists have been trying to better
understand and treat this condition for many years.
It is often
associated with poor responses to oncological treatments, increased
hospitalizations, and has been shown to be a major burden to family
caregivers. It is still largely overlooked and untreated in many
‘The tool developed to diagnose cachexia is composed of five routinely available clinical measures and laboratory tests, which could be available to doctors within the next few years or sooner.’
Patients with this condition eventually experience a
decline of their overall health to a point where it cannot be reversed
by eating more or taking nutritional supplements. Despite recent
advancements in research, cachexia remains very difficult to alleviate
About one third of cancer patients die because of cachexia - an
involuntary weight loss, characterized primarily by muscle wasting and
metabolic changes, which cannot be addressed or treated solely with
increased food intake. A study by researchers at the McGill University
Health Center (MUHC), published in Clinical Nutrition
, aims to save patient lives by giving doctors a practical tool to easily diagnose cachexia before it becomes irreversible.
"We are losing many cancer patients, not because of their cancer,
but because their bodies have undergone important metabolic changes. In
other words, they have simply stopped functioning correctly. In severe
stages of cachexia, weight loss becomes very important and nutrients can
no longer be absorbed or used properly by cancer patients," explains
Dr. Antonio Vigano, lead author of the paper and Director of the Cancer
Rehabilitation Program and Cachexia Clinic of the MUHC.
worse with time and the longer we wait to address it, the harder it is
to treat. Effectively diagnosing cachexia when still in its early stages
can make an enormous difference for a cancer patient's prognosis and
quality of life. In order to save more lives, we need practical and
accessible tools that can be effectively used by clinicians in their
routine practice to identify patients with cachexia."
The tool developed to diagnose cachexia is composed of five
routinely available clinical measures and laboratory tests, which could
be available to doctors within the next few years or sooner. The
researchers also hope the tool can be applied to other patients who are
losing weight from chronic diseases, such as acquired immunodeficiency
syndrome (AIDS), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, multiple
sclerosis, chronic heart failure, tuberculosis and many more.
Dr. Vigano's team at the McGill Nutrition and Performance Laboratory
(MNUPAL) is also participating in studies aiming at developing
treatments for cachexia. However, he insists, these treatments will only
be useful if doctors can diagnose cachexia and understand the severity
of each case. "Research is still needed to understand all the causes of
cachexia. Unless we can talk the same language in terms of what type of
patients we are treating and the severity of their condition, it is
often very difficult to make substantial progress," he states.