Cachexia is a Greek word, which literally means ‘bad condition.’ It is also known as wasting syndrome and is associated with loss of weight and muscle, weakness, fatigue, and significant loss of appetite. This syndrome is seen in patients with cancer, AIDS, chronic obstructive lung disease, congestive heart failure, tuberculosis, familial amyloid polyneuropathy, mercury poisoning (acrodynia), and certain hormonal disturbances.
It is also explained as a loss of body mass, especially lean body mass that cannot be reversed nutritionally, even if the patient eats more calories. If a person is suffering from cancer, then due to this syndrome, he will experience maximum tissue wasting, anorexia, and asthenia along with an abnormal metabolism. Cachexia has a very negative impact on the treatment cycle of the cancer patients. Almost 60 percent of cancer patients are reported to show the symptoms of cachexia, during their course of cancer therapy and almost all cancer patients at death.
Actually, cancer cachexia has a vicious cycle, which does not allow the patient to come out of it. The person has a low appetite; so, very little energy and nutrition is supplied to the body. The tumor consumes glucose, amino acids, and lipids at the expense of the host, for its growth. And due to chemotherapy and radiations, the patient has severe hypophagia and is not able to eat anything, which only causes the cachexic condition to become worse.
The exact mechanism of cancer cachexia is still not known and various research studies are being conducted in this area. With the help of proper nutrition, the outcome can be managed in some patients by restoring some of the lean body mass. A patient with cachexia has a high mortality rate. This syndrome is considered to be a positive risk factor for death by all medical experts. The quality of life and response to the treatment course is affected drastically by the conditions given rise to by cancer cachexia.
Ghrelin levels are found to be elevated in patients who have cancer cachexia. Cachectin, TNF (tumor necrosis factor), or other host derived cytokines are supposed to be signal molecules in cachexia. There are no FDA approved drugs that can treat cancer cachexia. Nevertheless, corticosteroids and drugs that are similar to progesterone can help to increase the appetite and may reverse weight loss. However, reversing muscle loss is extremely difficult in such cases.