Nutritional interventions for cancer-induced cachexia

Curr Probl Cancer. Mar-Apr 2011;35(2):58-90. doi: 10.1016/j.currproblcancer.2011.01.001.


Cancer-induced cachexia remains a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in cancer treatment. Cancer research and development continues at an aggressive pace and yet a degree of cancer-induced cachexia is experienced by up to 80% of advanced stage cancer patients. Unfortunately, there are no established treatment regimens for this condition. Weight loss and fatigue consistently appear in patient oncologic histories and progress notes. However, few oncologists fully understand the pathologic mechanisms causing cachexia resulting in well-meaning advice to increase caloric intake with minimal results. Our goal is to describe the pathologic basis of cancer-induced cachexia and to detail accompanying metabolic derangements. Understanding the causes of cachexia sheds light on the subsequent need for multi-modality therapy including clinical intervention with specialized nutrition support, drug therapy, lifestyle and diet changes. In addition to nutrition support modalities, practicing oncologists may prescribe medical therapies designed to increase body weight and lean body mass, including megestrol acetate, tetrahydrocannibinol, oxandrolone, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. A variety of experimental therapies are also being investigated for cancer-induced cachexia including tumor necrosis factor-alpha inhibitors and ghrelin infusions. We review the available data to support nutrition-oriented interventions in cancer-induced cachexia, including omega-3 fatty acids, amino-acid loading/protein supplementation, parenteral and enteral nutrition support, and food-derived compounds such as curcumin, reservatrol, and pomegranate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Cachexia / etiology*
  • Cachexia / nursing
  • Cachexia / therapy*
  • Curcumin / therapeutic use
  • Dronabinol / therapeutic use
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / therapeutic use
  • Ghrelin / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Ghrelin / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Interleukins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Interleukins / therapeutic use
  • Lythraceae
  • Megestrol Acetate / therapeutic use
  • NF-kappa B
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Nutrition Assessment*
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Nutritional Support*
  • Resveratrol
  • Stilbenes / therapeutic use
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / therapeutic use


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Ghrelin
  • Interleukins
  • NF-kappa B
  • Stilbenes
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Dronabinol
  • Curcumin
  • Resveratrol
  • Megestrol Acetate