The majority of cancer patients experience wasting characterized by muscle loss with or without fat loss. In human and animal models of cancer, body composition assessment and morphological analysis reveals adipose atrophy and presence of smaller adipocytes. Fat loss is associated with reduced quality of life in cancer patients and shorter survival independent of body mass index. Fat loss occurs in both visceral and subcutaneous depots; however, the pattern of loss has been incompletely characterized. Increased lipolysis and fat oxidation, decreased lipogenesis, impaired lipid depositionand adipogenesis, as well as browning of white adipose tissue may underlie adipose atrophy in cancer. Inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), and interleukin-1 beta (IL-1β) produced by the tumor or adipose tissue may also contribute to adipose depletion. Identifying the mechanisms and time course of fat mass changes in cancer may help identify individuals at risk of adipose depletion and define interventions to circumvent wasting. This review outlines current knowledge of fat mass in cancer and illustrates the need for further studies to assess alterations in visceral and subcutaneous adipose depots and possible mechanisms for loss of fat during cancer progression.
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