Tumor Cachexia

By | June 10, 2022

Cancer cachexia is the wasting of the body as a result of cancer. Both fat and muscle breakdown are stimulated. Cancer cachexia is the most common cause of cancer-related death.

What is tumor cachexia?

A clear definition of tumor cachexia does not yet exist. It has long been observed that cancer often leads to weight loss, which is difficult to treat. As a result of this weight reduction, there is a massive breakdown of fat and protein in the body. The organism can lose up to 80 percent of body mass. For introduction to megaureter, please visit sciencedict.com.

The assumption that this wasting is due solely to loss of appetite cannot be maintained. Because even with the intake of high-calorie food, at least the breakdown of the skeletal muscles could not be stopped. Today, tumor cachexia is considered a highly complex cancer-related syndrome that is not yet properly understood.

The lack of a binding and standardized definition for this syndrome makes treatment approaches extremely difficult. Due to different assumptions about the connections, clinical studies are also losing their meaningfulness. Depending on the definition, the percentage of patients suffering from tumor cachexia also changes. This is because different classification criteria are used.


The causes of tumor cachexia are not yet clearly known. It is assumed that the tumor produces messenger substances that intervene massively in the energy metabolism. A catabolic metabolism develops, with the breakdown of fat and protein in the skeletal muscles being stimulated. It is interesting that, in contrast to malnutrition, only the skeletal muscles are affected in addition to the fatty tissue.

The internal organs do not appear to lose weight in tumor cachexia. Another factor is a decrease in appetite as a result of nausea, lethargy or depression. The release of appetite-inhibiting messenger substances is also discussed. The tumor cachexia increases more and more as part of a self-reinforcing process. Due to muscle breakdown, the fatigue syndrome becomes more and more pronounced, which leads to an even lower food intake and can lead to anorexia (loss of appetite).

In addition, malabsorption of food in the gut as a result of digestive system impairments also leads to malnutrition. Furthermore, it was found that at a certain stage of the cancer, the tumor cells begin to die off. In turn, messenger substances are released, which fuel the tumor cachexia.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

Cancer cachexia manifests itself as an unexplained weight loss that often cannot be explained by reduced food intake. Skeletal muscle breakdown progresses, leading to increasing muscle weakness. As a result, a tiredness and exhaustion syndrome develops. The breakdown of adipose tissue also increases.

Body weight decreases by at least five percent within twelve months. It leads to chronic inflammation, insulin resistance and depression. The quality of life is severely impaired. Even increased food intake cannot stop tumor cachexia. There is only an increase in fat. However, the breakdown of skeletal muscle continues.

Diagnosis & course of disease

The diagnosis of tumor cachexia is very difficult in most cases. The prerequisite for the diagnosis is always an underlying cancer. Nevertheless, other causes such as infections, stenoses, chemotherapy and radiation therapy or depression must be ruled out as part of the differential diagnosis.

One indication is the increased breakdown of skeletal muscles, which cannot be stopped even with increased food intake. Laboratory tests are often inconclusive. Thus, the level of human albumin in the serum is reduced in tumor cachexia. However, the values ​​can be incorrect in liver and kidney diseases. In many cases, even a pronounced tumor cachexia leads to the detection of the underlying cancer.


Cancer cachexia leads to serious complications and symptoms. As a rule, the further course depends very much on the underlying disease, so that no general prognosis can be given. In many cases, however, those affected die due to tumor cachexia. The patients suffer from severe weight loss and thus also from deficiency symptoms.

There is also a breakdown of the muscles and also a breakdown of the bones. The muscles themselves are significantly weakened and the fatty tissue is also broken down. Furthermore, tumor cachexia can lead to permanent tiredness and exhaustion in the patient.

This cannot be compensated for by sleep, so that those affected can no longer perform strenuous activities. Furthermore, those affected suffer from various inflammations and infections due to tumor cachexia. However, the disease cannot be stopped by increasing food intake.

The treatment of the disease always depends on the treatment of the tumor. Complications cannot generally be predicted. If the tumor is defeated, the symptoms of tumor cachexia are usually also defeated. In many cases, however, the life expectancy of the patient is significantly reduced by the disease.

When should you go to the doctor?

In the case of tumor cachexia, a visit to a doctor is necessary in any case. In most cases, this cancer complaint is recognized and treated directly by a doctor, but should still be monitored so that the cancer can be successfully defeated. The earlier the tumor cachexia is detected, the better the further course of this disease is usually.

A doctor should be consulted if the person affected loses a lot of weight as part of the tumor cachexia. The muscles are also severely degraded, with those affected appearing permanently tired and exhausted. They can no longer actively participate in everyday life and often need support from those around them.

Those affected also often become ill and suffer from inflammation, so that a doctor should also be consulted. As a rule, the symptoms cannot be alleviated by an increased increase in food. In the case of this disease, the doctor who is treating the cancer should be contacted. The further course also depends very much on the condition of the person affected and on the tumor disease, so that no general statement can usually be made.

Treatment & Therapy

The therapy of tumor cachexia is currently still very difficult. Since it is based on a tumour, there is no cure for this syndrome without defeating the cancer. Today, tumor cachexia can only be treated palliatively to improve the patient’s quality of life. Tumor cachexia often occurs in the late stage of the tumor, so that in many cases the underlying disease (the cancer) can no longer be cured.

Only lifespan can be extended by treating the tumor with chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Increased food intake also cannot stop tumor cachexia. There is only an increase in fat tissue. Skeletal muscle breakdown continues. For future applications, for example, there is hope for the active ingredient ghrelin. In addition to the fat gain, muscle growth could even be achieved again. The active substance ghrelin is currently still subject to medical testing.

Other active ingredients such as cannabinoids or megestrol have not produced the desired effect. Skeletal muscle mass could not be increased. Among the active ingredients for inhibiting acute-phase proteins, only thalidomide has proven to be promising. Its effectiveness is currently being tested. Furthermore, active ingredients are being tested which inhibit proteasome activity (enzymes for protein degradation). However, many therapeutic approaches for the treatment of tumor cachexia have so far proven to be ineffective. The most effective therapy would be to cure the cancer.


Since tumor cachexia is a symptom of a serious tumor disease, there is no way to prevent it as an independent disease. For example, preventive examinations should be carried out to detect breast cancer or colon cancer. The occurrence of lung cancer can be prevented by not smoking. In general, a healthy lifestyle is recommended.


In the case of tumor cachexia, those affected often only have limited follow-up measures available. First and foremost, a doctor should be consulted at an early stage so that there are no further complications or other complaints for the person concerned. The sooner a doctor is consulted, the better the further course of the disease.

Therefore, those affected should contact a doctor at the first sign of the disease. Sometimes an operation is necessary. There are no particular complications, although those affected should rest after the procedure and take care of their bodies. Here, exertion or stressful activities should be avoided in order not to unnecessarily burden the body.

Due to the tumor cachexia, many of those affected are dependent on the help and support of their own families. Support in everyday life is very important, and psychological support can also prevent depression and other mental health problems. As a rule, this disease does not reduce the life expectancy of the affected person if it is recognized and treated early. However, a general course cannot be predicted.

You can do that yourself

Tumor cachexia can further deplete patients who are already weakened by the underlying disease, cancer. At this stage, the tumor consumes more energy than the body can obtain from an average diet.

In order to put a stop to wasting as far as possible, high-calorie foods make sense in everyday life. High-fat foods and lots of protein provide the body with energy and can help curb cachexia. Special foods are also available for those affected. These are also available as tube feeds or generally in mushy form or as liquid food if swallowing is no longer possible or causes pain. In the area of ​​self-help, the focus is on a very extensive range of food, which provides a significant increase in calories compared to the needs of a healthy person.

Depending on the severity of the disease, the feeling of weakness caused by the tumor cachexia can be immense. Patients should therefore be regularly examined by the responsible family doctor, who can arrange for inpatient admission if necessary. In the final stages of a tumor disease, patients can often no longer eat as much as is necessary to stop the cachexia. At some point, many people no longer want to do this because it is beyond their power. They accept the course of the disease. Good advice and support for the caring relatives in everyday life is therefore very important.

Tumor Cachexia