Cancer patients with high BMIs have 'poorer chance of survival'

A leading cancer research charity studied almost 160,000 patients over eight years.

World Cancer Research Fund finds higher BMI in bowel and breast cancer patients leads to lower survival rate iStock
WCRF: Maintaining healthy weight 'isn't always easy', but extremely important

High Body Mass Index (BMI) results in a poorer survival rate for breast and bowel cancer patients, according to a new study by the World Cancer Research Fund.

Breast and bowel cancer are two of the most common types of cancer in the UK.

Findings showed that for adults aged between 20 and 50 years old, an increase in BMI of one point meant a 6% increase in death rate for bowel cancer patients.

Similarly for breast cancer patients, with every one point increase in BMI there was a 4% increase in death rate.

There were over 2.26 million new cases of breast cancer, and 1.9 million cases of bowel cancer recorded in the UK in 2020.

The research studied a European group of 159,045 patients whose BMI measurements were taken regularly between 1992 and 2000.

Findings also showed that although a history of cardiometabolic diseases (CMD) such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease is associated with a 46% increase in risk of death, BMI has a direct effect on cancer survival regardless of whether the person also has CMD.

Dr Panagiota Mitrou, director of research and innovation at World Cancer Research Fund, said: “Adding to the wealth of research on two common forms of cancer, this study shows that exposure to higher body weight in early to mid-adulthood plays a major part in cancer prognosis.

“We know that maintaining a healthy weight throughout your lifetime isn’t always easy, yet the importance of doing this cannot be overstated.”

Dr Heinz Freisling, scientist at the International Agency for Research on Cancer and study author, said: “It is striking that both BMI and cardiometabolic disease were found to have a direct bearing on survival outcomes independently of each other for bowel and breast cancer patients at two key points in adulthood.

“This suggests that the increased risk of dying due to patients being overweight or obese cannot be explained by comorbidities.”