High prevalence of cachexia in newly diagnosed head and neck cancer patients: an exploratory study

Harriët Jager-Wittenaar, Pieter Dijkstra, Gerard Dijkstra, Johan Bijzet, Johannes A. Langendijk, Bernard van der Laan, Jan Roodenburg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In patients with cancer, weight loss can be related to simple starvation, disturbed
metabolism, or both. In patients with head and neck cancer (HNC), weight loss often is attributed to simple starvation because the obvious oral symptoms are known to hinder dietary intake. In this population, cachexia remains a relatively unexplored phenomenon. The aim of this study was to explore the prevalence of cachexia and precachexia in patients with newly diagnosed HNC.
Methods: Fifty-nine patients with newly diagnosed HNC were asked to participate in the prospective cohort study, from which only baseline data were used in the analyses. Measurements were performed 1 wk before cancer treatment, that is, cachexia status by Fearon’s cancer-specific framework,
dietary intake, muscle mass, muscle strength, and biochemical markers (C-reactive protein, albumin, hemoglobin, interleukin-1b, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor-a) were assessed.
Results: Data of 26 patients were included in the analyses (59% participation rate). Forty-two percent of the patients (n ¼ 12) were classified as cachectic and 15% (n ¼ 4) as precachectic. Muscle mass depletion was significantly more frequent in cachectic patients (67%) than in noncachectic patients (14%; P ¼ 0.014). No differences in inflammatory markers were observed between
cachectic and noncachectic patients.
Conclusion: This exploratory study suggested a high prevalence of cachexia (42%) in patients with newly diagnosed HNC. Although a large study is needed to further elucidate the role of cachexia in patients with HNC, the data presented here suggest that cachexia is a common problem in this patient population, which has therapeutic and prognostic implications.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-118
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • cancer
  • patients
  • dietetics


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