Obesity More Prevalent in Cancer Survivors


Obesity becoming a growing health concern for cancer survivors, specifically breast and colorectal cancers.

Obesity was found to be more prevalent in individuals with a history of cancer, particularly colorectal and breast cancers, compared with those who do not have a history of cancer.

These findings, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, were based on data from a nationally representative sample of 538,969 non-institutionalized adults between 18- and 85-years-old, with or without a history of cancer, and participated in the annual National Health Interview Survey from 1997 to 2014.

Of the 32,447 cancer survivors, the most common cancers were breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers. Obesity was defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 kg/m2 for non-Asians, and 27.5 kg/m2 for Asians.

Populations with the highest rates of increased obesity were colorectal and breast cancer survivors. The most affected survivors of all 3 cancers were African Americans.

“Our study identified characteristics of cancer survivors at the highest risk of obesity, which are important patient populations in which oncology care providers should focus their efforts,” said principal study investigator Heather Greenlee, ND, PhD.

The results of the analysis showed the prevalence of obesity increased from 22% to 32% in cancer survivors from 1997 to 2014. It also increased during the same time period in adults with a history of cancer from 21% to 29%.

The rates of obesity increased at a more rapid pace in female cancer survivors compared with both male cancer survivors and women with no history of cancer.

For female colorectal cancer survivors, researchers found that those who were young, non-Hispanic black, and were within 2 to 9 years from diagnosis had the highest increasing rates of obesity. Furthermore, female breast cancer survivors who were young, diagnosed within a year, and were non-Hispanic white had the highest increasing obesity rate.

Among male colorectal cancer survivors, researchers saw the highest increases in obesity among older men, non-Hispanic blacks, and those at, or greater than, 10 years from diagnosis. However, among prostate cancer survivors, those with the highest increases in obesity were younger, non-Hispanic whites, and 2 to 9 years from diagnosis.

“While our findings can be partially explained by the growing population of patients with breast and colorectal cancer — the 2 cancers most closely linked to obesity – we identified additional populations of cancer survivors at risk of obesity not as well understood and which require further study,” Greenlee said. “These results suggest that obesity is a growing public health burden for cancer survivors, which requires targeted interventions including weight management efforts to stave off the increasing obesity trends we are seeing in cancer survivors.”

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