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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 8  |  Issue : 5  |  Page : 471-486

Review of the Effects and Safety of Traditional Chinese Medicine in the Treatment of Cancer Cachexia

The Nethersole School of Nursing, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China

Correspondence Address:
Winnie KW So
The Nethersole School of Nursing, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/apjon.apjon-2130

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Cancer cachexia is characterized by weight loss, anorexia, asthenia, and anemia among cancer patients and can lead to their decreased physical function, poor quality of life, and reduced survival. Progestins have been reported to have beneficial effects on appetite improvement in patients with cancer; however, serious complications have been reported as a result of their use. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a complementary and alternative system of medicine that may be effective in treating cancer cachexia. This review aims to identify existing evidence on the efficacy and safety of traditional Chinese herbs and common TCM technologies in treating cancer cachexia. We searched six databases – the Cochrane Library, PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL, China National Knowledge Infrastructure, and Wan Fang Database, using medical subject headings and free text. The search was performed in January 2021, and the reference lists of relevant articles were also searched. A total of 4685 citations were identified, and 20 studies were included. The results showed that traditional Chinese herbs can improve appetite, weight, biomarkers, the Karnofsky performance status, cachexia-related symptoms, and quality of life in patients with cancer cachexia. Some traditional Chinese herbs may have superiority in curative effects and safety, compared with progestins. Interestingly, acupuncture can improve appetite, nausea, constipation, and quality of life among patients with cancer cachexia but cannot increase body weight. However, high-quality evidence regarding the effect of TCM technologies in treating cancer cachexia is limited. It would be beneficial to explore the use of moxibustion and other TCM technologies in future studies.

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