Sarcopenia in patients with colorectal cancer: A comprehensive review

World J Clin Cases. 2020 Apr 6;8(7):1188-1202. doi: 10.12998/wjcc.v8.i7.1188.


Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer globally and the second cancer in terms of mortality. The prevalence of sarcopenia in patients with CRC ranges between 12%-60%. Sarcopenia comes from the Greek "sarx" for flesh, and "penia" for loss. Sarcopenia is considered a phenomenon of the aging process and precedes the onset of frailty (primary sarcopenia), but sarcopenia may also result from pathogenic mechanisms and that disorder is termed secondary sarcopenia. Sarcopenia diagnosis is confirmed by the presence of low muscle quantity or quality. Three parameters need to be measured: muscle strength, muscle quantity and physical performance. The standard method to evaluate muscle mass is by analyzing the tomographic total cross-sectional area of all muscle groups at the level of lumbar 3rd vertebra. Sarcopenia may negatively impact on the postoperative outcomes of patients with colorectal cancer undergoing surgical resection. It has been described an association between sarcopenia and numerous poor short-term CRC outcomes like increased perioperative mortality, postoperative sepsis, prolonged length of stay, increased cost of care and physical disability. Sarcopenia may also negatively impact on overall survival, disease-free survival, recurrence-free survival, and cancer-specific survival in patients with non-metastatic and metastatic colorectal cancer. Furthermore, patients with sarcopenia seem prone to toxic effects during chemotherapy, requiring dose deescalations or treatment delays, which seems to reduce treatment efficacy. A multimodal approach including nutritional support (dietary intake, high energy, high protein, and omega-3 fatty acids), exercise programs and anabolic-orexigenic agents (ghrelin, anamorelin), could contribute to muscle mass preservation. Addition of sarcopenia screening to the established clinical-pathological scores for patients undergoing oncological treatment (chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery) seems to be the next step for the best of care of CRC patients.

Keywords: Colorectal cancer; Muscle mass loss; Nutrition; Oncologic outcomes; Sarcopenia; Survival.

Publication types

  • Review