After Pediatric Cancer

Young survivors face yet another battle: obesity

By Julie Flaherty
April 6, 2015

Their 4-year-old son has leukemia and has completed an intensive course of chemotherapy. Finally they get the good news—the cancer is in remission. When is the right time for the doctor to mention that their child is at risk for obesity?

A little weight gain may seem like a small problem after such a crisis, but Assistant Professor Fang Fang Zhang, an epidemiologist at the Friedman School who specializes in the relationship between nutrition and cancer, says that the risk is real and can have harmful consequences.

On top of the many reasons obesity is not good for anyone, pediatric cancer survivors who become obese are more likely to see their cancer return. They are also more prone to chronic health problems than their peers who did not have cancer: They are seven times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease, for example. Obesity adds even more risk, Zhang says.

Unfortunately, survivors of the most common form of childhood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), are at a higher risk of developing obesity than other children. In a statistical analysis Zhang and colleagues published in the journal Pediatrics, they found that on average, ALL survivors who had completed treatment within the last 10 years had a substantially higher body mass index than their peers.

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