Purpose of review: Cancer anorexia-cachexia syndrome is observed in 80% of patients in the advanced stages of cancer and is a strong independent risk factor for mortality. Numerous cytokines produced by tumor and immune cells, interacting with the neuropeptidergic system, mediate the cachectic effect of cancer. Since there is currently no effective pharmacological treatment and the anorexia-cachexia syndrome continues to be defined biochemically, we review the role of cytokines and neuropeptides in this process.
Recent findings: Currently data suggest that cancer anorexia-cachexia syndrome results from a multifactorial process involving many mediators, including hormones (e.g. leptin), neuropeptides (e.g. neuropeptide Y, melanocortin, melanin-concentrating hormone and orexin) and cytokines (e.g. interleukin 1, interleukin 6, tumor necrosis factor alpha and interferon gamma). It is likely that close interrelation among these mediators exists in the hypothalamus, decreasing food intake and leading to cachexia.
Summary: In the pathogenesis of cancer anorexia, cytokines play a pivotal role influencing the imbalance of orexigenic and anorexigenic circuits that regulate the homeostatic loop of body-weight regulation, leading to cachexia. Interfering pharmacologically with cytokine expression or neural transduction of cytokine signals can be an effective therapeutic strategy in anorectic patients before they develop cancer anorexia-cachexia syndrome.