Cachexia is sudden, unintentional weight loss, often related to a medical treatment or underlying condition. Unlike typical weight loss associated with decreased caloric intake, patients with cachexia lose muscle mass in addition to body fat. The prognosis is typically poor, and there are relatively few stories of reversal or alleviation of cachexia.
Current cachexia therapies include appetite stimulants, nausea medications, mood stabilizers, inflammation-reducing medications, dietary changes, nutritional programs, and exercise. Despite these options, cachexia can persist. For patients with cancer, that means a lower tolerance to chemotherapy and other treatments and a decreased quality-of-life. There is currently no treatment for cachexia.
A multi-institutional study from Japan recently published in Supportive Care in Cancer sought to determine the impact of changes in taste and smell for cachexia in patients with advanced cancer. To do so, the team enrolled 343 patients from 11 palliative care centers. The team hypothesized that taste and smell, essential senses for the enjoyment of eating, contribute to poor cachexia-related quality-of-life.
Per the study methodology, “Multivariate analyses were conducted to explore the impact of taste and smell disturbances on dietary intakes and cachexia-related QOL.” The Ingesta-Verbal/Visual Analog Scale was used to assess dietary intake. The team used an 11-point numeric rating scale to evaluate disturbances in taste and smell. The Functional Assessment of Anorexia/Cachexia Therapy Anorexia Cachexia Subscale was employed to determine the cachexia-related quality-of-life.
Of the 343 participants with complete data available, 35.6% (n=122) expressed disturbances in taste and 20.9% (n=72) experienced disturbances in smell. The study reported, “Multivariate analyses revealed that, independent of performance status and cancer cachexia, taste and smell disturbances were significantly associated with worse dietary intakes and deteriorating FAACT ACS scores.”
This association is promising because it indicates that improving taste and smell disturbances could ease cachexia and its related morbidities in patients with advanced cancer.