Overweight Troubles for Kids With Cancer

Stem cell transplant success in children with leukemia affected by their weight

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Being overweight affects a person's ability to live, children included. And for a child with cancer, the extra pounds can add more strain on the treatments.

A child's weight affects his or her chances of living after having a stem cell transplant, a recently published study reports.

"Talk to your child's oncologist about stem cell transplants."

In a stem cell transplant, healthy cells are injected into the body to replace the damaged cells, such as those affected by cancer.

The study, led by Melinda White, PhD, in the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at Royal Children's Hospital in Australia, included 113 patients who had a stem cell transplant to treat their leukemia, a cancer in the blood-forming tissues of the body, between June 1998 and January 2007.

Stem cells came from the bones of the patient himself, or from a separate donor.

Researchers gathered patients' age, gender, height, weight and transplant and donor type.

Patients were divided into one of three groups: 15 were in the underweight group, and 41 were overweight. The rest were ideal weight.

Ideal body weight depends on the patient's height percentile with their corresponding weight.  Cutoffs for each group were taken from the Children’s Oncology Group Nutrition Committee.

Researchers followed up with patients on average about seven years after the transplants.

Three years after the transplant, 55, or almost half of the patients were alive.

For each of the groups, 40 percent of the underweight, 60 percent of the ideal weight, and 37 percent in the overweight were still alive.

In the long-term, they found that overweight children were significantly less likely to live after the transplant than ideal-weight children.

The chance they would not live for years after was almost twice as likely as the chance for kids of normal weight.

For underweight children, there was no significant difference in the death rate compared to normal weight kids.

Researchers did not find why overweight children have a smaller chance of living compared to normal and underweight children.

Previous studies had found that underweight children had a harder time dealing with cancer.

"It has been established that underweight children with leukemia and solid tumors have an increased rate of relapse and worse survival," the authors said in their report.

The authors note they did not look at whether deaths were caused by relapse or from treatment in their study.

Further, overweight was measured by the size and proportion of the body, not by body composition, which accounts for muscle, fat and bone.

The underweight patients were older on average than the other two groups, but "this study found that age had no significant effect on outcome," the authors said.

The study was supported by the Children’s Nutrition Research Centre, School of Medicine, The University of Queensland, Nutrition and Dietetics Department and the Queensland Children’s Cancer Centre and the Queensland Children’s Institute of Medical Research at The University of Queensland.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest in creating their study.

The study was published online August 15 in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 16, 2012
Last Updated:
October 17, 2012