Approximately one-third of cancer deaths are caused by cachexia, a severe form of skeletal muscle and adipose tissue wasting that affects men more than women. The heart also undergoes atrophy in cancer patients, but the mechanisms and the basis for apparent sex differences are unclear. In a mouse colon-adenocarcinoma model, cancer causes a loss of cardiac mass due to a decrease in cardiac myocyte size that is associated with reduced levels of all sarcomeric proteins. Unlike skeletal muscle cachexia, atrophic hearts do not upregulate the ubiquitin-proteasome system or its activity but increase autophagy. Thus, cancer causes cardiac atrophy by a mechanism distinct from that in skeletal muscle. Male tumor-bearing mice have a more severe phenotype than females, including greater cardiac mass loss and mortality, a more robust pro-inflammatory response to the tumor, and greater cardiac autophagy. In females, estrogen protects against cancer-induced cardiac atrophy and body weight loss by signaling through its receptor. Sex differences in cardiac atrophy need to be considered during the treatment of patients suffering from chemotherapy-induced cardiomyopathy to prevent exacerbation of cardiac dysfunction.
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