People who had cancer as a child may be at an increased risk of being obese because of the therapies they received to battle the cancer, according to new research.
The study’s results, published in CANCER, the journal of the American Cancer Society, suggest the need for counseling and weight loss interventions for certain childhood cancer survivors.
Previous research has shown that obesity rates are elevated in childhood cancer survivors who were exposed to cranial radiation, which is used to prevent or delay the spread of cancer to the brain.
A research team led by Carmen Wilson, Ph.D., and Kirsten Ness, Ph.D., of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, designed a study to estimate the prevalence of obesity among childhood cancer survivors and to identify the clinical and treatment-related risks for obesity. The study also looked for potential genetic factors that might play a role.
The study included 1,996 survivors previously treated for cancer at St. Jude who had been diagnosed with cancer at least 10 years ago. The researchers found that 47 percent of survivors who had received cranial radiation were obese, compared with 29.4 percent of survivors who had not received cranial radiation.
The likelihood of obesity increased among survivors treated with cranial radiation who had also received glucocorticoids, or who were younger at the time of diagnosis, according to the study’s findings.
Also, certain variants in genes involved with neurons’ growth, repair, and connectivity were linked with obesity among survivors treated with cranial radiation, the researchers found.
The study also found that survivors who had been treated with chest, abdominal, or pelvic radiation were half as likely to be obese as those who did not receive these treatments.
The findings may help identify cancer survivors who are most likely to become obese, and could provide a foundation for future research efforts aimed at characterizing molecular pathways involved in the link between childhood cancer treatment and obesity, Wilson noted.
“Also, the ability to identify patients at increased risk may guide selection of therapeutic protocols that will maximize treatment outcomes while simultaneously minimizing the risk of long-term complications among children diagnosed with cancer,” said Ness.