No relevant studies have yet been conducted to explore which measurement can best predict the survival time of patients with cancer cachexia. This study aimed to identify an anthropometric measurement that could predict the 1-year survival of patients with cancer cachexia. We conducted a nested case–control study using data from a multicentre clinical investigation of cancer from 2013 to 2020. Cachexia was defined using the Fearon criteria. A total of 262 patients who survived less than 1 year and 262 patients who survived more than 1 year were included in this study. Six candidate variables were selected based on clinical experience and previous studies. Five variables, BMI, mid-arm circumference, mid-arm muscle circumference, calf circumference and triceps skin fold (TSF), were selected for inclusion in the multivariable model. In the conditional logistic regression analysis, TSF (P = 0·014) was identified as a significant independent protective factor. A similar result was observed in all patients with cancer cachexia (n 3084). In addition, a significantly stronger positive association between TSF and the 1-year survival of patients with cancer cachexia was observed in participants aged > 65 years (OR: 0·94; 95 % CI 0·89, 0·99) than in those aged ≤ 65 years (OR: 0·96; 95 % CI 0·93, 0·99; Pinteraction = 0·013) and in participants with no chronic disease (OR: 0·92; 95 % CI 0·87, 0·97) than in those with chronic disease (OR: 0·97; 95 % CI 0·94, 1·00; Pinteraction = 0·049). According to this study, TSF might be a good anthropometric measurement for predicting 1-year survival in patients with cancer cachexia.