Cancer-associated malnutrition

Eur J Oncol Nurs. 2005:9 Suppl 2:S39-50. doi: 10.1016/j.ejon.2005.09.006.


Malnutrition is a common problem among patients with cancer, affecting up to 85% of patients with certain cancers (e.g. pancreas). In severe cases, malnutrition can progress to cachexia, a specific form of malnutrition characterised by loss of lean body mass, muscle wasting, and impaired immune, physical and mental function. Cancer cachexia is also associated with poor response to therapy, increased susceptibility to treatment-related adverse events, as well as poor outcome and quality of life. Cancer cachexia is a complex, multifactorial syndrome, which is thought to result from the actions of both host- and tumour-derived factors, including cytokines involved in a systemic inflammatory response to the tumour. Early intervention with nutritional supplementation has been shown to halt malnutrition, and may improve outcome in some patients. However, increasing nutritional intake is insufficient to prevent the development of cachexia, reflecting the complex pathogenesis of this condition. Nutritional supplements containing anti-inflammatory agents, for example the polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) eicosapentanoic acid (EPA), have been shown to be more beneficial to malnourished patients than nutritional supplementation alone. EPA has been shown to interfere with multiple mechanisms implicated in the pathogenesis of cancer cachexia, and in clinical studies, has been associated with reversal of cachexia and improved survival.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cachexia / etiology
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / therapeutic use
  • Energy Intake
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Malnutrition / diagnosis*
  • Malnutrition / epidemiology
  • Malnutrition / etiology
  • Malnutrition / therapy*
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Nutritional Support
  • Prevalence
  • Quality of Life
  • Survival Rate
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Cytokines
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid