Muscle composition and outcomes in patients with breast cancer: meta-analysis and systematic review

  • G. F. P. AleixoEmail author
  • G. R. Williams
  • K. A. Nyrop
  • H. B. Muss
  • S. S. Shachar



Breast cancer is the most common cancer and leading cause of cancer death in women. Body composition parameters, especially those related to muscle, have become a growing focus of cancer research. In this review, we summarize the literature on breast cancer and muscle parameters as well as combine their outcomes for overall survival (OS), time to tumor progression (TTP), and chemotherapy toxicity in a meta-analysis.


A systematic search of the literature for randomized controlled trials and observational studies was conducted on MEDLINE, Cochrane CENTRAL, and EMBASE through May 1, 2019. Two reviewers independently searched and selected. Meta-analysis was conducted using a random-effects model. The risk of bias was evaluated using the Newcastle–Ottawa quality assessment for cohorts and GRADE summary of findings tool from Cochrane.


A total of 754 articles were screened from which 6 articles and one abstract were selected. Using skeletal muscle index (SMI), patients classified as sarcopenic had a 68% greater mortality risk compared to non-sarcopenic patients (HR 1.68 95% CI 1.09–2.59, 5 studies) (p = .02) (i2 = 70%). Low muscle density was not predictive of OS (HR 1.44 95% CI 0.77–2.68, 2 studies) (p = .25) (i2 = 87%). Patients with sarcopenia (56%) had more grade 3–5 toxicity compared to non-sarcopenic (25%) (RR 2.17 95% CI 1.4–3.34, 3 studies) (p = .0005) (i2 = 0%). TTP was nearly 71 days longer in advanced/metastatic patients classified as non-sarcopenic compared to patients with sarcopenia (MD − 70.75 95% CI − 122.32 to − 19.18) (p = .007) (i2 = 0%).


Our synthesis of the literature shows that patients with sarcopenia have more severe chemotherapy toxicity as well as shorter OS and TTP, and that low muscle density is prognostic of OS for women with metastatic breast cancer. Our findings suggest that in clinical practice, body composition assessment is valuable as a prognostic parameter in breast cancer.


Breast cancer Sarcopenia Myosteatosis Muscle measures 



Skeletal muscle index


Skeletal muscle density


Skeletal muscle gauge


Visceral adipose tissue


Subcutaneous adipose tissue


Computer tomography


Magnetic resonance imaging


Dual X-ray absorptiometry


Bioelectrical impedance analysis



We thank for the help and guidance on our search from the University of North Carolina Health Sciences Library.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

This study did not entail direct contact with humans and therefore did not entail obtaining informed consent.

Supplementary material

10549_2019_5352_MOESM1_ESM.docx (13 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 13 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Hematology-Oncology, Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer CenterUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  2. 2.Unoeste Universidade do Oeste PaulistaPresidente PrudenteBrazil
  3. 3.Division of Hematology/OncologyUniversity of Alabama at BirminghamBirminghamUSA
  4. 4.Oncology Institute, Rambam Health Care CampusHaifaIsrael

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