A cytokine-based neuroimmunologic mechanism of cancer-related symptoms

Neuroimmunomodulation. 2004;11(5):279-92. doi: 10.1159/000079408.


While many of the multiple symptoms that cancer patients have are due to the disease, it is increasingly recognized that pain, fatigue, sleep disturbance, cognitive dysfunction and affective symptoms are treatment related, and may lead to treatment delays or premature treatment termination. This symptom burden, a subjective counterpart of tumor burden, causes significant distress. Progress in understanding the mechanisms that underlie these symptoms may lead to new therapies for symptom control. Recently, some of these symptoms have been related to the actions of certain cytokines that produce a constellation of symptoms and behavioral signs when given exogenously to both humans and animals. The cytokine-induced sickness behavior that occurs in animals after the administration of infectious or inflammatory agents or certain proinflammatory cytokines has much in common with the symptoms experienced by cancer patients. Accordingly, we propose that cancer-related symptom clusters share common cytokine-based neuroimmunologic mechanisms. In this review, we provide evidence from clinical and animal studies that correlate the altered cytokine profile with cancer-related symptoms. We also propose that the expression of coexisting symptoms is linked to the deregulated activity of nuclear factor-kappa B, the transcription factor responsible for the production of cytokines and mediators of the inflammatory responses due to cancer and/or cancer treatment. These concepts open exciting new avenues for translational research in the pathophysiology and treatment of cancer-related symptoms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cytokines / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Neuroimmunomodulation / immunology*


  • Cytokines