N Bennani-Baiti, D Walsh



Cancer anorexia-cachexia syndrome (CACS) is a lethal but poorly defined involuntary wasting disorder. Loss of skeletal muscle and fat distinguishes it from starvation. Cachexia has been described as a clinical syndrome since ancient times, and the poor prognosis has long been acknowledged. In this article we have reviewed historical perspectives on cancer cachexia, and commented on modern definitions. In cancer cachexia, most historical descriptions included anorexia, wasting and a pale complexion. Other associated symptoms, such as fatigue, early satiety and taste changes, were inconsistently described. Newer descriptions have not significantly expanded the clinical picture. Today, there is still no consensus definition, hindering research on early diagnosis and effective therapy. The language descriptors used to characterise the syndrome are important. For example, the word ‘cachexia’ itself may mislead; perhaps cancerrelated wasting syndrome is more accurate. Cancer anorexia-cachexia syndrome is a disorder associated with high morbidity and mortality, and deserves greater attention in both clinical and translational research.

Keywords Anorexia, cachexia, cancer, definition, syndrome

Declaration of Interests No conflict of interests declared. This paper was presented at the 11th Conference of the European Association for Palliative Care, 2009, in Vienna, Austria.