Obesity and Cancer: Summary of the Position Statement of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO)—Introduction

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) released a policy statement on initiatives to limit the harmful effects of obesity on cancer, and to prevent obesity-related cancers. Part 1 of this 2-part series presents an introduction to the topic and an overview of the position statement. Part 2 of this series summarizes ASCO’s proposed initiatives to reduce the impact of obesity on cancer.

Obesity is associated to a higher risk of being diagnosed with some cancers, recurrence after treatment, and increased cancer-related mortality in people diagnosed with early-stage disease.1-6 In fact, obesity is projected to soon overtake tobacco as the leading preventable cause of cancer in the United States.

Complications of obesityStudies Link Obesity to Cancer Risk and Poor Treatment Outcomes
Recent studies have demonstrated an association between obesity and the risk for breast cancer, biologically aggressive prostate cancer, colon cancer, as well as other malignancies. Obesity also is linked to a variety of complications related to cancer treatment and outcomes, including:

  • Less effective delivery of systemic cancer therapy
  • Morbidity from cancer treatment
  • Poor wound healing, postoperative infections, and lymphedema
  • Comorbid illnesses (eg, heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, and diabetes) in cancer survivors
  • Increased risk for development of a second primary malignancy

Research also suggests that a cancer diagnosis may be a teachable moment, meaning that patients may be motivated to adopt risk-reducing or health-protective behaviors.

ASCO Priorities
In it’s first-ever policy statement on cancer and obesity, the American Society of Clinical Oncology outlines 4 priorities:

  • Encourage education and awareness among patients and health care professionals on the link between obesity and cancer.
  • Develop recommendations and tools to help health care professionals address obesity, and resources to help patients manage their weight.
  • Promote research to determine gaps in knowledge on the benefits of weight loss in cancer survivors and the best methods to help people make behavioral changes after a cancer diagnosis.
  • Advocate for policy changes to increase access to obesity screening, diagnosis, and weight management services.

Part 2 of this series provides more information on these priorities.

“With nearly 3 in 4 Americans having overweight or obesity, obesity has become a tremendous public health challenge that also impacts cancer care and prevention today,” said Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP, immediate Past President of ASCO. “Cancer doctors need to play a lead role in reducing obesity’s impact, both in the care of our patients and as advocates for broader action. We can’t allow obesity to undo decades of progress in prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment of cancer,” Dr. Hudis said.

June 26, 2015

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American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO): Initiatives to Reduce the Impact of Obesity on Cancer
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