Liquid Biopsy for Cancer Cachexia: Focus on Muscle-Derived microRNAs

Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Aug 20;22(16):9007. doi: 10.3390/ijms22169007.


Cancer cachexia displays a complex nature in which systemic inflammation, impaired energy metabolism, loss of muscle and adipose tissues result in unintentional body weight loss. Cachectic patients have a poor prognosis and the presence of cachexia reduces the tolerability of chemo/radio-therapy treatments and it is frequently the primary cause of death in advanced cancer patients. Early detection of this condition could make treatments more effective. However, early diagnostic biomarkers of cachexia are currently lacking. In recent years, although solid biopsy still remains the "gold standard" for diagnosis of cancer, liquid biopsy is gaining increasing interest as a source of easily accessible potential biomarkers. Moreover, the growing interest in circulating microRNAs (miRNAs), has made these molecules attractive for the diagnosis of several diseases, including cancer. Some muscle-derived circulating miRNA might play a pivotal role in the onset/progression of cancer cachexia. This topic is of great interest since circulating miRNAs might be easily detectable by means of liquid biopsies and might allow an early diagnosis of this syndrome. We here summarize the current knowledge on circulating muscular miRNAs involved in muscle atrophy, since they might represent easily accessible and promising biomarkers of cachexia.

Keywords: biomarkers; cancer cachexia; liquid biopsy; miRNAs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Cachexia / diagnosis*
  • Cachexia / genetics*
  • Circulating MicroRNA / analysis
  • Circulating MicroRNA / blood
  • Circulating MicroRNA / genetics
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Liquid Biopsy / methods
  • MicroRNAs / analysis
  • MicroRNAs / blood
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Muscular Atrophy / pathology
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Weight Loss / genetics


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Circulating MicroRNA
  • MicroRNAs