February 18, 2014 | by Nicole White
A side effect of cancer treatment many people don’t expect? Weight gain.
People with certain cancers – such as breast, prostate and colon cancer – are more likely to gain weight during treatment due to the therapies used to combat their disease. Hormone therapy, some chemotherapy regimens and medications such as steroids all can cause weight gain, as well as water retention.
Other treatments can increase appetite or cause fatigue – which can lead to eating more and moving less, a common formula for weight gain. In other cases, old-fashioned stress and “comfort” food could be triggers for weight gain.
Some studies of cancer patients have linked obesity to an increased risk of recurrence and death in several common cancers, including breast, colorectal and prostate cancer. The California Teachers Study, led by City of Hope’s Leslie Bernstein, showed that being obese was associated with a significant increase of dying from breast cancer for many women.
Patients currently in treatment, however, shouldn't go on a diet – even if they find themselves gaining weight – without speaking to their physician. A doctor can help determine why weight is increasing and discuss the options.
The population of cancer survivors in the U.S. is on the rise at the same time as the obesity rate is increasing – to the point that two-thirds of adults are obese or overweight – so naturally, the number of cancer survivors struggling with their weight also has increased.
Sometimes, survivors and their families don’t realize that significant and lasting weight gain can be a serious health problem. For example, a National Cancer Institute-funded study found that adult survivors of pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia were significantly more likely to be obese than their siblings. Other trials aimed at helping cancer survivors lose weight found that families – relieved that a child has overcome life-threatening illness – often see weight as a comparatively minor health issue. However, obesity puts survivors at increased risk of cancer, a risk that is already elevated for cancer survivors.
The good news is that dropping the weight and adding moderate amounts of exercise will go a long way to reverse these risks.
“Physical activity is stronger in its ability to cut cancer risk than even maintaining a healthy body weight, particularly for women,” said Leslie Bernstein, Ph.D., R.N., professor and director of City of Hope’s Division of Cancer Etiology.
The National Cancer Institute offers these tips for managing food and managing food, weight and cancer risk:
For more information about breast cancer, including risk factors, check out our breast cancer information page. For information about prostate cancer, including risk factors, check out our prostate cancer information page.