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Cachexia is a complex, disabling, and life-threatening metabolic condition that can lead to anorexia and unintentional weight and muscle loss.1 Cachexia is an underrecognized consequence of many chronic illnesses, including cancer, congestive heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and affects an estimated 1 percent of patients with chronic illnesses worldwide.2 Pfizer researchers are investigating potential treatments for cachexia and its complications to fill this significant unmet medical need.

For more information about our pipeline and clinical trials related to cachexia, visit this page.

  • Cachexia is a metabolic condition that can lead to anorexia and unintentional weight and muscle loss.1 Also known as wasting syndrome and anorexia cachexia syndrome, it affects an estimated 1 percent of patients with chronic illnesses worldwide.2 The disease burden is anticipated to grow as the population ages and the prevalence of chronic conditions associated with cachexia increases.3

  • Cachexia often affects patients with certain common underlying chronic illnesses, such as cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), congestive heart failure (CHF), and other diseases.2 Cachexia can also occur in people living with these conditions who are overweight or obese, which can make the diagnosis even more challenging as excess body fat can mask the appearance of muscle loss.4,5 When compounded by cachexia, chronic illnesses become even more difficult to treat and can be more devastating for patients. Cachexia is associated with disability and poor survival, and patients with chronic diseases who also have cachexia have a much worse prognosis than individuals with the same chronic diseases who are weight stable.2,6 In addition, cachexia can affect patients’ ability to tolerate treatment for their underlying disease.1

  • Scientific understanding of cachexia and its signs and symptoms has evolved in recent years. Signs and symptoms of cachexia include decreased appetite/anorexia, unintentional weight loss (5 percent or more of body weight in 12 months), reduced muscle strength and function, and fatigue.7 It can impact many aspects of quality of life, including the ability to perform daily activities.7

  • Although signs and symptoms of cachexia – such as unintentional weight loss, decreased food intake, and reduced muscle function over time7 – can be observed clinically in later stages of the disease, they can be highly variable, and there are currently no standard quantitative biomarkers to help physicians detect the condition in its early stages.8

  • At this time, there are no approved therapeutics that effectively improve appetite, lean body mass, or physical function in patients with cachexia. Current approaches to treating cachexia, such as nutritional supplementation and counseling strategies, are helpful but do not often significantly slow or reverse the disease.9

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1“Tackling the Conundrum of Cachexia in Cancer.” National Cancer Institute. Published November 1, 2011. Accessed July 7, 2020
2Von Haehling, Anker SD. Prevalence, incidence and clinical impact of cachexia: facts and numbers-update 2014. J Cachexia, Sarcopenia Muscle. 2014;5:261-263.
3Von Haehling S, Anker M, Anker S. Prevalence and clinical impact of cachexia in chronic illness in Europe, USA, and Japan: fact and numbers update 2016. J Cachexia, Sarcopenia Muscle. 2016;7:507-509.
4Fearon K, Strasser F, Anker SD, Bosaeus I, Bruera E, et al. Definition and classification of cancer cachexia: an international consensus. Lancet Oncol. 2011;12:489-95.
5Sharma AM, Kushner RF. A proposed clinical staging system for obesity. Int J Obes. 2009;289-295.
6Blum D, Stene GB, Solheim TS, et al. Validation of the consensus-definition for cancer cachexia and evaluation of a classification model – a study based on data from an international multicenter project. Ann Oncol. 2014;25:1635–1642.
7Baker Rogers J, Minteer JF. Cachexia. [Updated 2020 Apr 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from:
8Ebadi M. Mazurak VC. Potential Biomarkers of Fat Loss as a Feature of Cancer Cachexia. Mediators of Inflammation 2015;1-8. doi: 10.1155/2015/820934
9Ohnuma T. Treatment of Cachexia. In: Kufe DW, Pollock RE, Weichselbaum RR, et al., editors. Holland-Frei Cancer Medicine. 6th edition. Hamilton (ON): BC Decker; 2003. Available from: