Cachexia is a systemic condition that occurs during many neoplastic diseases, such as cancer. Cachexia in cancer is characterized by loss of body weight and muscle and by adipose tissue wasting and systemic inflammation. Cancer cachexia is often associated with anorexia and increased energy expenditure. Even though the cachectic condition severely affects skeletal muscle, a tissue that accounts for ~40% of total body weight, it represents a multi-organ syndrome that involves tissues and organs such as white adipose tissue, brown adipose tissue, bone, brain, liver, gut and heart. Indeed, evidence suggests that non-muscle tissues and organs, as well as tumour tissues, secrete soluble factors that act on skeletal muscle to promote wasting. In addition, muscle tissue also releases various factors that can interact with the metabolism of other tissues during cancer. In this Review, we examine the effect of non-muscle tissues and inter-tissue communication in cancer cachexia and discuss studies aimed at developing novel therapeutic strategies for the condition.