Breast Cancer Cells

How Obesity Stacks the Odds in Cancer Against You

ASCO National Cancer Opinion Index InfographicWhen it comes to cancer, it’s increasingly clear that obesity stacks the odds against you in two ways. First, obesity is a key risk factor for many cancers. And second, obesity leads to worse outcomes in cancer treatment.

Low Awareness That Obesity Is a Risk Factor

People understand that smoking and sun exposure can cause cancer. But when it comes to obesity, most just don’t think of it as a risk factor. In a recent survey by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, only 31% named obesity as something that poses a risk for cancer.

More than a decade ago, a landmark NEJM paper documented the increased risk of death from a broad range of cancers linked to obesity. Those insights have sparked intense interest in research across disciplines to understand the link and find better outcomes for people with both diseases.

Why Does Obesity Lead to Worse Outcomes in Cancer?

As researchers have come to understand that obesity gets in the way of cancer survival, they’ve started asking why. Particularly in breast cancer, this has become an important question.

New research this week shows that adipocytes (fat cells) can act to reduce the effectiveness of daunorubicin. It’s a drug used to treat multiple forms of leukemia and, less commonly, to prevent recurrence of breast cancers.

Xia Sheng and colleagues found evidence that adipocytes can metabolize and inactivate the drug. This finding adds a bit more insight into the challenge of delivering a safe and effective dose of chemotherapy in patients with obesity.

An Opportunity for Better Outcomes

Better insights can mean better outcomes. Weight loss, particularly with bariatric surgery, can reduce cancer risk. It can also improve the odds of survival for people who are fighting cancer. And quite separate from weight loss, physical activity can reduce risks and improve outcomes.

You can expect more to come from the rapidly growing understanding of the link between these two diseases. With better understanding, we will see better options for better health.

Click here for the study by Sheng et al, here and here for fact sheets, and here for a special issue of Obesity devoted to new research on this subject.

Breast Cancer Cells, photograph © National Institutes of Health / flickr

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November 10, 2017

One Response to “How Obesity Stacks the Odds in Cancer Against You”

  1. November 10, 2017 at 8:05 am, Allen Browne said:


    Very interesting/scary issue of Obesity.