Cachexia in advanced cancer: What's the best treatment?

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Cachexia in advanced cancer: What's the best treatment?

Question

What's the best way to treat cachexia in someone who has cancer?

Julia
Virginia

Answer

Cachexia is the loss of muscle mass and other lean tissues. Cachexia is common during the advanced stages of cancer, though it's unclear exactly how cancer causes muscle loss. Cachexia is also common in certain other chronic conditions, such as AIDS, heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Cachexia is often accompanied by loss of appetite. The muscle loss isn't caused by not eating, however — it's caused by the cancer. Even people who receive nutritional support through feeding tubes or intravenous feedings during the late stages of cancer can experience cachexia.

The best way to ease cachexia is to treat the cancer. If the cancer is no longer responding to treatments, little can be done to treat cachexia directly.

Sometimes appetite stimulants such as megestrol or corticosteroids can improve a person's appetite. But even then, eating more doesn't typically help a person feel better — nor does it lead to regained muscle mass. In addition, appetite stimulants may have bothersome side effects, such as swelling, agitation and increased risk of blood clots.

If you're caring for a person who has advanced cancer, simply provide support. Allow the person to eat as desired for comfort or pleasure. Don't pressure the person into eating more.

Last Updated: 2008-10-02
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