Relationship between cytokines and symptoms in people with incurable cancer: A systematic review

Rebekah Patton (Lead / Corresponding author), D. Robert Paval, James J. McDonald, Duncan Brown, Iain J. Gallagher, Richard J. E. Skipworth, Donald C. McMillan, Ross D. Dolan, Marie Fallon, Barry J. A. Laird

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    6 Citations (Scopus)


    Background: Development and spread of cancer is linked to the inflammatory response, in which cytokines serve a key role. The inflammatory response may also form the basis for symptoms of cancer. This systematic review examines the relationship between cytokines and symptoms in incurable cancer.

    Methods: MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane Library, CINAHL, Web of Science and PsycINFO databases were searched for studies from January 2004 to January 2020.

    Results: Twenty studies were selected (n = 1806 patients, 119 controls). Symptoms studied included depression, fatigue, pain, and loss of appetite. Nine studies examined patients with a specified tumour type, the remainder included patients with a mix of tumour types. Thirty-one cytokines were examined; multiple associations between cytokines and symptoms were described, supporting the hypothesis that cytokines may have a key role in symptom generation.

    Conclusion: Symptoms of incurable cancer are associated with circulating cytokines. Further study is required to characterise these relationships, and to explore their therapeutic potential.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number103222
    Number of pages12
    JournalCritical Reviews in Oncology/Hematology
    Early online date19 Jan 2021
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


    • Cancer
    • Cytokines
    • Palliative medicine
    • Symptoms
    • Systemic inflammatory response

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Hematology
    • Oncology


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