Does Surviving Cancer Lead to Weight Gain?

Yesterday’s big news was the study by Kerry Courneya, professor and Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity and Cancer at the University of Alberta, published in CANCER.

I am not going to repeat the findings or the data here because this was nicely summarized by Sharon Kirkey from Canwest News Service in the Edmonton Journal.

The bottom line is that cancer survivors are apparently not exercising more or eating healthier than everyone else, and are therefore at least as, if not even more, likely to develop obesity than the average Canadian.

This is particularly true for survivors of breast and colon cancer, which are particularly likely to recur with lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating and weight gain.

The dramatic impact of weight on cancer risk is perhaps best demonstrated by the observation that obesity surgery, which on average reduces body weight by 25%, results in an almost 60% reduction in cancer mortality! (see Adams et al. for an example of such a study).

I guess it just goes to show that cancer survivors are no less susceptible to the consequences of our obesogenic environment, which certainly does not make weight control easy, even at the best of times.

That is of course, unless there is something special about surviving cancer that makes you more likely to gain weight – an interesting hypothesis pursued by other researchers here at the University of Alberta.

I can think of a number of reasons why surviving cancer could predispose to weight gain: “catch-up” fat, depression, “post-traumatic” stress, anxiety, susbtance abuse, “overfeeding”, immobility, medications, and perhaps a few others.

Whatever the reasons, it looks like we may now need intervention programs to specifically address weight gain and obesity in cancer survivors?

For one, educating cancer survivors about the links between excess weight and cancer would be a start.

My sense is that most people still don’t fully appreciate the close link between obesity and cancer – all the more reason to promote healthy eating and active living for all.

Obesity prevention (and treatment?) may well turn out to be the most effective cancer prevention strategy (short of smoking cessation) – looks like a whole new field for bariatric health professionals?

I guess we’d call them Bariatric Oncologists?

Edmonton, Alberta