Does Obesity Impact Cancer Survival?

By Kim Polacek, APR, CPRC - April 08, 2021

Obesity has long been known as a risk factor for cancer. But does having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more shorten a person’s life if they are diagnosed with the disease? According to Italian researchers, the answer may depend on the type of cancer.

A recent article published in JAMA Network Open analyzed data from more than 200 studies including over 6.3 million cancer patients. Specifically, they focused on the relationship between obesity and patients’ risk of dying.

They found that obesity increased the risk of death from any cause by 14%, and there was a 17% higher risk of death from cancer. Factors such as age, race and existing health conditions were considered in their findings. 

However, there were slight variations when the results were broken down by cancer type. For example, breast, pancreatic and uterine cancer patients had a higher risk of death if they were obese. But conversely, melanoma, lung and kidney cancer patients who were obese lived longer than those leaner patients. Dr. Smitha Pabbathi, director of the Cancer Survivorship Clinic at Moffitt Cancer Center, says it is still not known if this relationship is cause and effect.

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"This is an interesting study that really highlights the complex relationship between cancer and obesity."

- Dr. Smitha Pabbathi, Director, Cancer Survivorship Clinic

“This is an interesting study that really highlights the complex relationship between cancer and obesity,” she said. “There is still a great deal we have to learn about this relationship with what are the best approaches and practices to address this along the cancer care continuum.”

Pabbathi added that studies like this one can bring more awareness to this issue. Two-thirds of Americans have excess body weight. The prevalence is increasing, and obesity is positioned to take over tobacco as the leading avoidable cause of cancer.

“Recommendations on physical activity and nutrition are an important part of the counseling we provide to patients in the Survivorship Clinic at Moffitt. Our goal is to empower our patients to utilize the elements they have in their control to do what they can in cancer prevention,” she said.

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Kim Polacek, APR, CPRC Senior PR Account Coordinator More Articles

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