Obesity and overweight linked to worse outcomes in blood cancer

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America’s growing waistlines are giving scientists some food for thought.

There’s a fresh study that connects being overweight to getting less benefit from certain treatments for a type of blood cancer.

The research zooms in on teenagers and young adults with a cancer called acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). It looks like those who weigh more may not respond as well to the standard treatments for ALL.

The Heavier the Patient, the Heavier the Consequences?

America is wrestling with an obesity crisis. About 40% of the population was classed as obese in 2020.

Now, this new study suggests that being overweight could be making things worse for young people who are being treated for ALL.

For about 15 years, we’ve known that weight can affect how children respond to treatment for ALL. More recently, we’ve seen a similar pattern in adults.

But, as Shai Shimony, MD, explains, the team wanted to dive deeper into this issue. They wanted to understand why this connection between weight and treatment response exists and how it might vary with age.

A Peek into the Data

The researchers looked at data from 388 patients aged 15 to 50 who were treated for ALL between 2008 and 2021.

They looked at things like the patients’ weight, age, treatment side-effects, and how well the treatment worked.

They found that almost half the patients were overweight or obese. And those who were overweight or obese didn’t do as well as those with a normal weight.

They were more likely to die from causes other than cancer, they were less likely to stay cancer-free, and their overall survival rate was lower.

The most surprising finding? Younger and older patients with normal weight had almost the same survival rates, which goes against the usual belief that being older is a bad sign for ALL patients.

Looking for Clues in Treatment Side-effects

When the researchers looked at the side-effects, they found more problems in patients who were overweight or obese. These patients were more likely to have higher liver enzymes and blood sugar levels.

They also discovered that patients with higher blood fat levels (triglycerides) tended to do better.

This seems odd, but it could be because these fats reflect how well one of the main chemotherapy drugs is working. So this could be a good sign, not a bad one.

The Big Picture and Future Work

All in all, the study suggests that being overweight could be a problem for young people being treated for ALL. This doesn’t mean that everyone should start dieting right away.

But it does mean that doctors might need to consider a patient’s weight when choosing the best treatment.

Still, this study isn’t perfect. It only looked back at old data, it didn’t include many non-white patients, and it didn’t have data on one key measure of how well treatment works.

So there’s still more work to do. For now, though, it’s given us plenty to think about.

If you care about cancer, please see recent studies about new way to increase the longevity of cancer survivors, and results showing new way to supercharge cancer-fighting T cells.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about how drinking milk affects risks of heart disease and cancer and results showing that vitamin D supplements could strongly reduce cancer death.

The study was published in Blood Advances.

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