Study: Stable Body Weight in Colorectal Cancer Survivors May Hide Loss of Muscle, Increased Risk of Death

March 25, 2021
Skylar Kenney, Assistant Editor

A new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that for colorectal cancer survivors, maintaining a stable body weight may hide a loss of muscle and the development of fatty deposits in their muscles, which resulted in a 40% higher risk of premature death.

The study examined 1921 patients with stage I-III colorectal cancer. Skeletal muscle and body weight were measured at the time of diagnosis, and an average of 15 months later. Stable body weight was defined as being within plus or minus 5% of the patient’s weight at the time of diagnosis.

"The conventional wisdom has been that colorectal cancer patients should avoid losing or gaining weight during treatment," said Justin C. Brown, PhD, assistant professor and director of the Cancer Metabolism Program at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, in a press release. "But maintaining your weight does not mean your body composition remains the same. Muscle can change quite dramatically, and those changes are associated with a much higher risk of death."

According to the researchers, assessing body composition using computed tomography images may be a crucial method of identifying patients at an increased risk of death. Stable body weight can mask clinically meaningful skeletal muscle depletion, with women particularly at risk of losing muscle. One in 5 women with stable body weight lost muscle, whereas less than 1 in 10 men did.

"More research is needed to determine whether physical activity offers the best solution to prevent muscle loss or fatty deposits in muscle," Brown said in the release. "But the findings provide colorectal cancer patients with more incentive to engage in physical activity programs that maintain and build muscle."

REFERENCE

Maintaining body weight won't save colorectal cancer survivors [news release]. EurekAlert; March 19, 2021. Accessed March 23, 2021. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-03/pbrc-mbw031821.php