Cancer and Weight Management: A Heavy Issue

Kate Williams Body Fat, News, Side Effects, Weight

If you’ve been in to see one of our MAC Exercise Physiologists, you’ll know that one of the key things we focus on during your initial consultation is an assessment of your body composition – even if your goal isn’t necessarily to gain or lose weight. Why is it so?

We’ve already covered why muscles are important in managing symptoms and potentially improving treatment outcomes in our previous blog . But what about fat?

Let’s start with this – all fat isn’t created equal. Subcutaneous fat – or fat which you can squeeze -that lives on the outside of the body, appears to be relatively harmless. But visceral or ‘belly’ fat, which sits deep within the abdomen and lies close to our vital organs, is heavily linked with other chronic diseases (think heart disease and diabetes, which individuals with cancer are unfortunately already at increased risk of).

But it goes deeper than this. There is mounting observational evidence that obesity is associated with poorer survival particularly in those with breast, endometrial, prostate, bowel, ovarian and some haematological cancers. Whilst the reasons behind the relationship are biologically complex, the stimulation of several inflammatory factors which encourage tumour cell growth and progression would appear to be at fault.

So back to the clinic: our assessment doesn’t just focus on your ‘raw’ body mass (weight in kilograms); after all, this doesn’t really tell us much about what you’re made up of! We’ll also test for (an estimate) of your muscle mass percentage, as well as take measurements around your waist to check how much visceral fat you are carrying.

Then we put in place the exercise prescription to help you change these things for the better. The good news is that recent reviews of observational evidence demonstrate that cancer survivors (breast, prostate and colorectal) who put in place an adequate exercise routine have reduced their risk of dying from cancer by as much as 37%. Now that’s worth getting off the couch for.

Demark-Wahnefried et al. 2018 ‘Weight management and physical activity throughout the cancer care continuum’, CA Cancer J Clinc, Published online Nov 27, 2017, doi: 10.3322/caac.21441

Nguyen et al. 2018 ‘Synergy of sex differences in visceral fat mesured with CT and tumor metabolism helps predict overall survival in patients with renal cell carcinoma’, Radiology, Published online March 20, 2018, doi: