Pharmacological management of cachexia in adult cancer patients: a systematic review of clinical trials

BMC Cancer. 2018 Nov 27;18(1):1174. doi: 10.1186/s12885-018-5080-4.


Background: Cachexia is a multisystem syndrome characterized by weight loss, anorexia, loss of muscle mass, systemic inflammation, insulin resistance, and functional decline. Management of cachexia involves addressing multiple underlying biological mechanisms. Previous review on pharmacological management of cancer cachexia identified progestins and corticosteroids as effective agents for treatment of cachexia. However, to date no consensus exists on a single effective or standard treatment for management of cachexia. The aim of this systematic review is to determine the effectiveness of pharmacological treatments used to manage cachexia among adult cancer patients.

Methods: We performed literature searches of PubMed (NLM), Embase (Ovid), and Medline(Ovid) to identify clinical trials focused on pharmacological management of cancer cachexia among adult cancer patients from 2004 to 2018. Three reviewers screened a random selection of abstracts to measure for interrater reliability. After this step, each screener screened two-thirds of all abstracts and 177 studies were identified for full text review. The primary outcome was impact of pharmacological management on change in either weight or lean body mass in cancer patients.

Results: We identified 19 articles (representing 20 RCTs) that focused on pharmacological management of cancer cachexia. Agents showing promising results included Anamorelin and Enobosarm. Anamorelin at 50 or 100 mg per day for 12 weeks showed a consistent benefit across all studies and resulted in significant improvement in weight as compared to baseline among cancer patients. Enobosarm at 1 and 3 mg per day was also effective in improving lean body mass and QOL symptoms among advancer stage cancer patients. Finally, use of combination agents provide evidence for targeting multiple pathways underlying cachexia mechanism to achieve maximum benefit. No agents showed functional improvement in cancer patients.

Conclusion: Anamorelin as a single agent shows promising results in improving cachexia related weight loss among cancer patients. Further research on combination therapies may be helpful to address critical gaps in cachexia management.

Keywords: Anamorelin; Cancer cachexia; Sarcopenia; Systemic inflammation; Weight loss.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use
  • Cachexia / drug therapy*
  • Cachexia / etiology*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Disease Management
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrazines / therapeutic use
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Oligopeptides / therapeutic use
  • Quality of Life
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Cytokines
  • Hydrazines
  • Oligopeptides
  • anamorelin