Managing Cancer Cachexia: Multi-Disciplinary Healthcare Perspectives

*Corresponding author: Joanne Reid*, Aminah Jatoi, Elisa Enriquez-Hesles and Samuel Porter

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original research



Cachexia is a syndrome which is a common feature in more than 80% of patients with advanced cancer and globally accounts for over two million deaths per annum. At present there are no standard treatment guidelines for cancer cachexia management. Previous research conducted with the United Kingdom and Australia has highlighted different understanding and treatment practices of health care professionals in cachexia management, however, no study has elucidated the understanding and current practices of health care professionals in the United States.


The aim of this research was to explore the understanding and current practices of health care professionals in the United States when providing care to an individual with advanced cancer who has cachexia.


This is a qualitative study underpinned by symbolic interactionism. Face-to-face semi-structured interviews were conducted (n=17) with multi-disciplinary oncology staff and thematically analysed. Health care professionals were recruited from one large health care facility in the United States, until data saturation was reached. NVivo was used for data management. Criteria for upholding rigor (credibility, dependability, confirmability, transferability) were adhered to within this qualitative study. Full ethical approval was obtained prior to data collection commencing.


Analysis determined four main themes related to (1) recognizingthe signs and symptoms of cachexia; (2) the multidimensional impact of cachexia on both patients and families; (3) complexities when treating cachexia; and (4) future direction of care delivery for patients with advanced cancer who have cachexia.


Participants within this study recognized the multi-factorial pathophysiology of cachexia and its holistic impact which spanned biological, psychological and social domains. Additionally, they recognized the impact of cachexia on not only patients but also their family carers. In particular the feelings of helplessness family carers experience in trying to stop the progressive and involuntary weight loss associated with cachexia. Further research is required to examine how to best support the needs of patients with advanced cancer who have cachexia and their family carers and equip staff to optimize delivery of this.


Qualitative research; Cancer cachexia; Symbolic interactionism; Multi professional care; Patients and carers.