Stronger Muscles Survive Cancer Better

Sarcopenia in melanoma patients linked to poor outcomes

(RxWiki News) A person's overall health at the time cancer strikes does have an impact on their survival. A new study shows that this is especially true for melanoma patients of all ages.

New research has demonstrated that a person's core muscle density predicts whether or not melanoma will spread to other parts of the body. Identifying patients who are weaker and therefore at higher risk of poor outcomes could direct treatment choices.

"Get and stay strong."

Muscle loss and decreased core muscle density is a condition called sarcopenia.

The study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMCCC) evaluated 101 patients with stage III melanoma. CT scans were used to measure the density of the psoas, a core muscle that runs along both sides of the spine.

Patients who had sarcopenia were at far greater risk of having the cancer return, regardless of the size of the tumor or the patient's age. The study also found frail patients had more complications following surgery to remove malignant lymph nodes.

Previous studies have linked poor melanoma survival with age. These latest findings suggest the overall underlying health of an individual is what matters most.

dailyRx asked lead investigator, Michael Sabel, M.D., associate professor of surgery and a surgical oncologist at UMCCC if exercise, particularly weight bearing exercise, could reverse the muscle loss and improve survival.

"I do believe this data suggests that," said Dr. Sabel, "But one question might be whether the damage is already done and there isn't time to reverse the 'frailty' before the distant disease manifests itself."

Dr. Sabel says that many patients don't see a recurrence for more than two years. This is particularly true of patients with stage II melanoma.

"So for these patients, avoiding frailty (and hence maintaining a healthy immune response) should improve outcome," Dr. Sabel said.

"Our plan is to start looking at other biologic measures of frailty in addition to sarcopenia, and then studying whether we can reverse these through an exercise regimen to decrease the complications of surgery and in the case of melanoma, recurrence."

This study is published online in Annals of Surgical Oncology.

Review Date: 
September 6, 2011