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Nutrition. 2001 Sep;17(9):751-5.

Cancer cachexia and its treatment with fish-oil-enriched nutritional supplementation.

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University Department of Surgery, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.



Cachexia is a common condition affecting those with advanced cancer. This review explores mechanisms of cachexia and possible treatments devised with these mechanisms in mind.


Selective review of the relevant scientific literature was performed with particular emphasis on studies performed by our group over the past 10 y involving patients with advanced pancreatic cancer.


Cancer cachexia adversely affects patient quality of life and survival. It is characterized by a lack of a normal anabolic response to the provision of apparently adequate nutrition. It appears to result from a persistent response to illness stimulated by the cancer resulting in a proinflammatory cytokine and catabolic hormonal environment. Interventions that ignore this inflammatory milieu have had little success. More promising interventions have a broad antiinflammatory component such as nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs or fish oil. Preliminary studies of a combination of fish oil as an antiinflammatory agent with nutritional supplementation show promise in reversing weight loss with apparent gains in lean tissue and performance status in association with normalization of the metabolic environment in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer.


Cancer cachexia produces a metabolic environment that prevents the appropriate use of supplied nutrition. Antiinflammatory agents such as fish oil in combination with nutritional supplementation may reverse aspects of cachexia.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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