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Cancer. 2003 Jun 1;97(11):2919-25.

Are the symptoms of cancer and cancer treatment due to a shared biologic mechanism? A cytokine-immunologic model of cancer symptoms.

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Department of Symptom Research, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston 77030, USA.



Cancers and cancer treatments produce multiple symptoms that collectively cause a symptom burden for patients. These symptoms include pain, wasting, fatigue, cognitive impairment, anxiety, and depression, many of which co-occur. There is growing recognition that at least some of these symptoms may share common biologic mechanisms.


In November 2001, basic and clinical scientists met to consider evidence for a cytokine-immunologic model of symptom expression along with directions for future research.


The characteristics of cytokine-induced sickness behavior in animal models have much in common with those of symptomatic cancer patients. Sickness behavior refers to a set of physiologic and behavioral responses observed in animals after the administration of infectious or inflammatory agents or certain proinflammatory cytokines. In some cases, these responses can be prevented by cytokine antagonists. A combination of animal and human research suggests that several cancer-related symptoms may involve the actions of proinflammatory cytokines.


Based on the similarities between cancer symptoms and sickness behavior, the authors discussed approaches to further test the implications of the relationship between inflammatory cytokines and symptoms for both symptom treatment and symptom prevention.

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