Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle (JCSM) - Abstract

 Volume 1, Number 1, Page 1 - 5 

Cachexia as a major underestimated and unmet medical need: facts and numbers

Stephan von Haehling, Stefan D. Anker

Cachexia is a serious, however underestimated and underrecognised medical consequence of malignant cancer, chronic heart failure (CHF), chronic kidney disease (CKD), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, infectious diseases, and many other chronic illnesses. The prevalence of cachexia is high, ranging from 5% to 15% in CHF or COPD to 60% to 80% in advanced cancer. By population prevalence, the most frequent cachexia subtypes are in order: COPD cachexia, cardiac cachexia (in CHF), cancer cachexia, and CKD cachexia. In industrialized countries (North America, Europe, Japan), the overall prevalence of cachexia (due to any disease) is growing and currently about 1%, i.e., about nine million patients. The relative prevalence of cachexia is somewhat less in Asia, but is a growing problem there as well. In absolute terms, cachexia is, in Asia (due to the larger population), as least as big a problem as in the Western world. Cachexia is also a big medical problem in South America and Africa, but data are scarce. A consensus statement recently proposed to diagnose cachexia in chronic diseases when there is weight loss exceeding 5% within the previous 3–12 months combined with symptoms characteristic for cachexia (e.g., fatigue), loss of skeletal muscle and biochemical abnormalities (e.g., anemia or inflammation). Treatment approaches using anabolics, anti-catabolic therapies, appetite stimulants, and nutritional interventions are under development. A more thorough understanding of the pathophysiology of cachexia development and progression is needed that likely will lead to combination therapies being developed. These efforts are greatly needed as presence of cachexia is always associated with high-mortality and poor-symptom status and dismal quality of life. It is thought that in cancer, more than 30% of patients die due to cachexia and more than 50% of patients with cancer die with cachexia being present. In other chronic illnesses, one can estimate that up to 30% of patients die with some degree of cachexia being present. Mortality rates of patients with cachexia range from 10% to 15% per year (COPD), to 20% to 30% per year (CHF, CKD) to 80% in cancer.

von Haehling S, Anker SD. Cachexia as a major underestimated and unmet medical need: facts and numbers. J Cachexia Sarcopenia Muscle 2010;1:1–5.