Breast cancer is a disease of a specific organ, but its effects are felt throughout the body. The systemic effects of breast cancer can lead to functional limitations in patients who suffer from muscle weakness, fatigue, pain, fibromyalgia, or many other dysfunctions, which hasten cancer-associated death. Mechanistic studies have identified quite a few molecular defects in skeletal muscles that are associated with functional limitations in breast cancer. These include circulating cytokines such as TNF-α, IL-1, IL-6, and TGF-β altering the levels or function of myogenic molecules including PAX7, MyoD, and microRNAs through transcriptional regulators such as NF-κB, STAT3, and SMADs. Molecular defects in breast cancer may also include reduced muscle mitochondrial content and increased extracellular matrix deposition leading to energy imbalance and skeletal muscle fibrosis. This review highlights recent evidence that breast cancer-associated molecular defects mechanistically contribute to functional limitations and further provides insights into therapeutic interventions in managing functional limitations, which in turn may help to improve quality of life in breast cancer patients.
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