Sarcopenia during neoadjuvant therapy for oesophageal cancer: characterising the impact on muscle strength and physical performance

Support Care Cancer. 2018 May;26(5):1569-1576. doi: 10.1007/s00520-017-3993-0. Epub 2017 Dec 2.


Purpose: Preoperative chemo(radio)therapy for oesophageal cancer (OC) may have an attritional impact on body composition and functional status, impacting postoperative outcome. Physical decline with skeletal muscle loss has not been previously characterised in OC and may be amenable to physical rehabilitation. This study characterises skeletal muscle mass and physical performance from diagnosis to post-neoadjuvant therapy in patients undergoing preoperative chemo(radio)therapy for OC.

Methods: Measures of body composition (axial computerised tomography), muscle strength (handgrip), functional capacity (walking distance), anthropometry (weight, height and waist circumference), physical activity, quality-of-life and nutritional status were captured prospectively. Sarcopenia status was defined as pre-sarcopenic (low muscle mass only), sarcopenic (low muscle mass and low muscle strength or function) or severely sarcopenic (low muscle mass and low muscle strength and low muscle function).

Results: Twenty-eight participants were studied at both time points (mean age 62.86 ± 8.18 years, n = 23 male). Lean body mass reduced by 4.9 (95% confidence interval 3.2 to 6.7) kg and mean grip strength reduced by 4.3 (2.5 to 6.1) kg from pre- to post-neoadjuvant therapy. Quality-of-life scores capturing gastrointestinal symptoms improved. Measures of anthropometry, walking distance, physical activity and nutritional status did not change. There was an increase in sarcopenic status from diagnosis (pre-sarcopenic n = 2) to post-treatment (pre-sarcopenic n = 5, severely sarcopenic n = 1).

Conclusions: Despite maintenance of body weight, functional capacity and activity habits, participants experience declines in muscle mass and strength. Interventions involving exercise and/or nutritional support to build muscle mass and strength during preoperative therapy, even in patients who are functioning normally, are warranted.

Keywords: Neoadjuvant therapy; Oesophageal cancer; Physical fitness; Sarcopenia.

MeSH terms

  • Esophageal Neoplasms / complications*
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Strength / physiology*
  • Neoadjuvant Therapy / adverse effects*
  • Physical Functional Performance*
  • Quality of Life
  • Sarcopenia / etiology*
  • Sarcopenia / pathology