Childhood cancer and adult obesity

Obesity puts anyone at a higher risk for many different diseases and conditions, including heart disease and cancer. However, survivors of childhood cancer who become overweight or obese as adults are at an increased risk of developing an obesity-related cancer. If these survivors were obese as children and carry that obesity into adulthood, they are at even higher risk.

Obesity is a condition in which a person has an unhealthy amount and/or distribution of body fat.  Higher amounts of body fat cause chronic inflammation in the body, which has the potential to damage our DNA, and in turn, cause cancer. You can find out more about obesity and cancer in this fact sheet from the US National Cancer Institute. 

Survivors of childhood cancer Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) are at the highest risk of obesity, due to the use of steroids in the treatment of this cancer type. Those who receive radiation to the brain, abdomen or total body irradiation are also in the high risk category for becoming overweight or obese as adults. Radiation to the brain can affect the pituitary and hypothalamus, which regulate the metabolic processes in our bodies. Damage to these areas of the brain can lead to over-eating and weight gain

“Obesity, in general, puts every individual at increased risk for cancer in adulthood. Knowing that some childhood cancer treatment protocols increase the risk of secondary cancers makes it more important to tackle the modifiable risk factor of obesity now.” – Jennifer Brown, Childhood Cancer Survivorship Nurse

For adults looking to reduce their cancer risk, check out this page by Cancer Council called Overweight, Obesity, and Cancer. 

Cancer Advisor has a range of resources on life after cancer, but we’re always looking for more content. Leave a comment below, share your own story or recommend a resource.

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