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Muscle mass is key factor in surviving incurable cancer

If you ever develop an incurable form of cancer then your amount of muscle mass will determine how many years you still have to live. Moreover, your muscles partly determine the ability of your body to withstand life-extending chemotherapy, write American oncologists in Clinical Cancer Research.

The researchers studied 40 women, average age 55, with a metastatic and incurable form of breast cancer. The doctors tried to delay the cancer's progression with chemotherapy - the women were given taxanes - and thus extend the women's lives.

Scans showed that sixty percent of the women had sarcopaenia, the medical term for loss of muscle and strength as a result of aging processes and cancer.

The participants with sarcopaenia [Sarcopenic] encountered noticeably more problems with the chemotherapy than the participants who still had a reasonable amount of muscle mass [Normal]. For example, the participants with little muscle mass had more frequent problems with serious or life-threatening side effects from chemotherapy [Grade 3-4 toxicity] and ended up more frequently in hospital as a result of the chemo side effects [Hospital].

Muscle mass is key factor in surviving incurable cancer

Muscle mass is key factor in surviving incurable cancer

The participants' muscle mass also predicted their chances of survival. All participants who had sarcopaenia had died within a year after starting chemotherapy. Of the women with normal amounts of muscle mass, two years after starting chemotherapy 20 percent were still alive.

The researchers drew two conclusions from their study. One is that oncologists can calculate more precisely how much cancer inhibiting drugs they should administer during chemotherapy if they base their calculations on a patient's muscle mass. This way chemotherapy can become more effective and have fewer side effects.

The other conclusion seems obvious. "Understanding the importance of sarcopenia and body composition in patients with cancer also highlights the need for timely interventions to increase or prevent further loss of muscle mass during treatment and in survivorship," the researchers wrote. "Intervention research to date has focused on exercise, vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acid dietary supplementation."

Clin Cancer Res. 2017 Feb 1;23(3):658-65.

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