Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 December 2017
Thiamine is an essential coenzyme for oxidative metabolisms; however, it is not synthesized in the human body, and the average thiamine storage capacity is approximately 18 days. Therefore, thiamine deficiency (TD) can occur in any condition of unbalanced nutrition. If TD is left untreated, it causes the neuropsychiatric disorder Wernicke encephalopathy (WE). Although WE is a medical emergency, it is sometimes overlooked because most patients with WE do not exhibit all of the typical symptoms, including delirium, ataxia, and ophthalmoplegia. If all of the typical clinical symptoms of WE are absent, diagnosis of TD or WE becomes more difficult.
From a series of cancer patients, we reported three patients who developed TD without the typical clinical symptoms of WE.
A 69-year-old woman with pancreatic body cancer receiving chemotherapy with paclitaxel and gemcitabine for six months. Her performance status (PS) was 1. A detailed interview revealed that she had appetite loss for six months. Another 69-year-old woman with ovarian cancer received nedaplatin; her PS was 0. A detailed interview revealed that she had appetite loss for three months. A 67-year-old woman with colon cancer receiving ramucirumab in combination with second-line fluorouracil with folinic acid and irinotecan. Her PS was 1. A detailed interview revealed that she had appetite loss for three weeks. None exhibited typical clinical signs of WE, but they developed appetite loss for six months, three months, and three weeks, respectively. The diagnosis of TD was supported by abnormally low serum thiamine levels.
This report emphasizes the possibility of TD in cancer patients even when patients do not develop typical clinical signs of WE. The presence of appetite loss for more than two weeks may aid in diagnosing TD. Patients receiving chemotherapy may be at greater risk for developing TD.