The objective of this review is to present and discuss the current and the possible future perspectives of artificial nutrition in preventing and treating cancer cachexia. English-language studies published in the last 25 years were retrieved using MEDLINE, bibliographies and consultation with experts. MEDLINE search terms included "cancer," "malnutrition," and "nutritional support." In vivo and in vitro controlled studies were selected, and data from each study were independently abstracted by the authors. Data obtained indicate that cancer cachexia is a common manifestation of advanced malignant disease, characterized by marasmus due to impaired nutrient metabolism, weight loss, and anemia. In patients, the presence of cachexia increases morbidity and mortality, delays or impedes the delivery of the adequate treatment, reduces the efficacy of anti-neoplastic therapy, and impairs patient's quality of life. Indirect evidence indicates that cancer cachexia is mediated by circulating cytokines, produced by the host in response to the presence of the malignancy. In the past two decades, nutritional support was used to counteract the detrimental effect of cancer cachexia on the host, but with limited success. More recently, the better understanding of the mechanisms of cancer cachexia and the identification of pharmacologic effects provided by specific nutrients, has formed the rationale for a "new" mode of nutrition therapy/nutritional support, adding pharmacotherapy to adjunctive initial care.
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