Kantonsspital St.Gallen

Autonomic Dysfunction in Cancer Cachexia Coincides With Large Fiber Polyneuropathy

Thomas Hundsberger, Aurelius Omlin, Stefan Hägele-Link, Jochen Vehoff & Florian Strasser


Cancer cachexia occurs in a majority of patients suffering from solid malignancies. Recent works suggest paraneoplastic mechanisms. Empirical studies also found autonomic dysfunction in cancer patients, but comprehensive evaluation of the peripheral nervous system is lacking.

To further understand the role of the autonomic and peripheral nervous system in cancer cachexia to guide treatment.

We prospectively investigated cachectic cancer patients for parasympathetic autonomic dysfunction with a time domain based analysis of heart rate variability (breathing at rest, deep breath and in response to the valsalva manoeuvre). Blood pressure changes following the valsalva manoeuvre were used as a marker of the sympathetic noradrenergic system. Orthostatic hypertension was investigated in response to active standing. We used a non-invasive continuous beat-to-beat heart rate assessment and blood pressure monitoring. The sympathetic cholinergic nervous system was evaluated with the sympathetic skin response. A detailed neurological examination, nerve conduction studies and electromyography were also conducted.

Thirteen patients were enrolled (median age 66 years). Median time from inclusion until death was 3.5 months. Twelve out of 13 patients showed abnormal results in at least one autonomic test. Sympathetic noradrenergic and cholinergic abnormalities were discovered in six patients each and five patients had orthostatic hypotension. Only one patient showed abnormal results in parasympathetic cholinergic tests. Asymptomatic large fiber polyneuropathy was detected in eight patients.

Large fiber polyneuropathy coincides with autonomic dysfunction in cachectic cancer patients. Our findings suggest a relevant role of sympathetic impairment in cancer cachexia.
citation Hundsberger T, Omlin A, Hägele-Link S, Vehoff J, Strasser F. Autonomic Dysfunction in Cancer Cachexia Coincides With Large Fiber Polyneuropathy. J Pain Symptom Manage 2014; 48:611-618.
type journal paper/review (English)
date of publishing 4-4-2014
journal title J Pain Symptom Manage (48/4)
ISSN electronic 1873-6513
pages 611-618
PubMed 24709363
DOI 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2013.11.018
contact Thomas Hundsberger