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Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity
Volume 2016 (2016), Article ID 9579868, 19 pages
Review Article

The Janus-Faced Role of Antioxidants in Cancer Cachexia: New Insights on the Established Concepts

EA1274 Laboratory “Movement, Sport and Health Sciences” (M2S), University of Rennes 2, ENS Rennes, 35170 Bruz, France

Received 10 March 2016; Revised 28 June 2016; Accepted 17 July 2016

Academic Editor: Alexandr V. Bazhin

Copyright © 2016 Mohamad Assi and Amélie Rébillard. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Chronic inflammation and excessive loss of skeletal muscle usually occur during cancer cachexia, leading to functional impairment and delaying the cure of cancer. The release of cytokines by tumor promotes the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which in turn regulate catabolic pathways involved in muscle atrophy. ROS also exert a dual role within tumor itself, as they can either promote proliferation and vascularization or induce senescence and apoptosis. Accordingly, previous studies that used antioxidants to modulate these ROS-dependent mechanisms, in cancer and cancer cachexia, have obtained contradictory results, hence the need to gather the main findings of these studies and draw global conclusions in order to stimulate more oriented research in this field. Based on the literature reviewed in this paper, it appears that antioxidant supplementation is (1) beneficial in cancer cachectic patients with antioxidant deficiencies, (2) most likely harmful in cancer patients with adequate antioxidant status (i.e., lung, gastrointestinal, head and neck, and esophageal), and (3) not recommended when undergoing radiotherapy. At the moment, measuring the blood levels of antioxidants may help to identify patients with systemic deficiencies. This approach is simple to realize but could not be a gold standard method for cachexia, as it does not necessarily reflect the redox state in other organs, like muscle.