Cachexia Is a Real Concern for Some Cancer Patients

Thousands of people undergo potentially lifesaving, but grueling cancer treatments each and every year. While difficultly eating, a loss of energy and other side effects are normal, some potential developments are largely unexpected. A condition known as cachexia may develop in some patients, especially in advanced stages of the disease when mortality is likely. Helping families and patients cope with this development is a real concern for oncologists across the country.

Similar to anorexia, cachexia is described as a “wasting syndrome.” People with this condition develop an aversion to eating that can dramatically impact their ability to obtain proper nutrition. The condition is characterized by a loss of muscle and fat. The weight loss is involuntary and quality of life is likely to decline greatly as fatigue and even pain set in.

Cachexia is a rather complex metabolic syndrome that can present with a number of diseases. People who suffer from it have dramatically decreased appetite and rapid weight loss associated with it. The condition is known to develop in up to 70 percent of patients with advanced cancer.

While a number of drugs have been tested to treat cachexia, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved any for across-the-board use. In some cases, the condition might be treated with diet modification, pharmaceuticals and appetite stimulants, among others.

Helping patients and family members cope with cachexia is a real concern for doctors who treat advanced cancers. With no known cure, some experts recommend the best course of action is to work with patients and family members to provide education, explain the benefits and potential pitfalls of any interventions and provide emotional support.
Family members of patients with cachexia are urged to discuss their concerns with their loved one’s healthcare provider. Help, if even only emotional support, may be available.

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