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Obesity Linked to Higher Esophageal Cancer Death Rates

FRIDAY, Dec. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Obese people who have had surgery to treat esophageal cancer are twice as likely to have a recurrence of the disease or die from cancer within five years as patients of normal weight, according to a new study.

In the study, published in the Dec. 1 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., suggested their findings could change the way some doctors treat obese patients with this type of cancer.

The investigators followed 778 people who had surgery for esophageal cancer and found that those who were classified as obese (a body mass index of 30 or higher) had a five-year survival rate of 18 percent. That survival rate jumped to 36 percent among people who were not overweight.

"Obesity is considered a risk factor in the development of this cancer, which is known to be both highly lethal and increasingly common," the study's lead investigator, Dr. Harry Yoon, an oncologist at the Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center, said in a Mayo news release. "But prior to this study, we did not really understand the impact of obesity in this upper gastrointestinal cancer."

The study authors pointed out that their findings applied only to nonsmokers who had their esophagus removed. Yoon added that previous research has linked obesity to greater risk for cancer as well as increased risk of death from other types of tumors because extra weight results in a chronic inflammatory state.

The researchers noted their findings could change the approach they take with obese patients with esophageal cancer.

"As an oncologist, I did not typically speak to my patients about excess body weight as part of their care, because we are more often concerned about weight loss and maintaining proper nutrition, but that may change," said Yoon. "It would be helpful to be able to offer patients some measures that they can take to possibly impact their prognosis."

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about obesity and cancer.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic, news release, Dec. 20, 2011

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