An update on promising agents for the treatment of cancer cachexia

Curr Opin Support Palliat Care. 2009 Dec;3(4):258-62. doi: 10.1097/SPC.0b013e3283311c6f.


Purpose of review: There are no published conclusive phase III controlled clinical trials nor general consensus about treatment approaches despite several years of coordinated efforts in basic and clinical research. Consequently, practice guidelines for the prevention and treatment of cancer-related muscle wasting are lacking. The purpose of this review is to supply an update on the promising agents and/or combined approaches for the treatment of cancer cachexia.

Recent findings: The choice for cancer cachexia treatment in clinical practice is very limited: the only approved drugs in Europe are progestagens. Several drugs with a strong rationale have failed or have not shown univocal results in clinical trials: they include eicosapentaenoic acid, cannabinoids, bortezomib and anti-tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha monoclonal antibody. Several emerging drugs have shown promising results but are still under clinical investigation [thalidomide, selective cyclooxygenase (COX)-2 inhibitors, ghrelin mimetics, oxandrolone, olanzapine]. Moreover, increasing knowledge of cachexia pathophysiology and preliminary clinical findings seem to suggest that a combined treatment approach may be the most effective option.

Summary: A number of promising new agents are currently being developed but are not as yet regarded as standard of care. They include: selective COX-2 inhibitors, ghrelin mimetics, oxandrolone, selective androgen receptor modulators (ostarine), olanzapine, anti-IL-6 antibody and an innovative approach of multitargeted combined treatment. The data reported seem to suggest that the most effective treatment for cancer cachexia may be a combination regimen rather than single-agent treatments. This is in keeping with the general consensus that cancer cachexia is a multifactorial process and, hence, a potentially effective approach should be multimodal.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anabolic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cachexia / drug therapy*
  • Cachexia / etiology
  • Drug Design
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / complications*


  • Anabolic Agents