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In a diet-crazy world, it may seem a little odd to be writing about how to maintain body fat rather than about how to lose it. But if you have cancer, that is exactly what you need to do to survive, and even thrive, as you work for remission.

Day and night, whenever we are plugged into the media, we get the message that we need to lose weight, lose weight, and lose weight. And the truth is, a high-fat diet and excessive body fat increases the risk of a plethora of diseases, including cancer.

Once you have been diagnosed with cancer, however, a little extra weight, or even a lot, generally increases your chances of survival, especially if you are going to be treated with chemotherapy, immuno-therapy, or radiation.

Just how body fat influences chances of surviving cancer depends on the type of cancer, gender, and age, but here is what cancer epidemiologists have discovered:

  • Breast cancer in women. Overweight and inactivity increase the risk of breast cancer in women before menopause, but overweight decreases the risk of breast cancer in women after menopause. When women receive chemotherapy for breast cancer, stuidies involving the largest number of women find that moderately overweight women stay cancer-free longer than either women of normal weight or below, or women who are obese. Women who have a BMI between 25 and 30 tend to stay in remission longer and suffer fewer complications than women whose BMI's are higher or lower.
  • Prostate cancer. Obese men do not have an increased risk of more aggressive prostate cancer, to the surprise of cancer researchers. Going on a reduced-calorie diet immediately after surgery actually increases the production of hormones that can encourage the growth of cancer cells the surgery misses.
  • Lung cancer. After diagnosis with lung cancer, people who are either overweight or obese tend to live longer than people who are normal weight or thin.
  • Colon cancer. The higher your body mass index (that is, the more you weigh when your height is taken into consideration), the more likely you are to develop colon cancer. Once you develop colon cancer, if you are overweight or obese, you are likely to live longer if you reduce your glycemic load, that is, if you eat fewer simple sugars and refined carbohydrates. However, researchers have not found that calorie restriction after colon cancer diagnosis is necessarily a good idea. It's the sugar and flour that need to be eliminated from the diet, not necessarily the healthy fat.

The research tells us that if you have been diagnosed with cancer, you certainly don't want to eat so much that you become obese. That is highly unlikely, however, to be a problem, especially if you are on any of the chemotherapies that cause nausea and vomiting. It is far more likely that you will have more difficulty keeping weight up than keeping weight off.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Assi HA, Khoury KE, Dbouk H, Khalil LE, Mouhieddine TH, El Saghir NS. Epidemiology and prognosis of breast cancer in young women. J Thorac Dis. 2013 Jun. 5(Suppl 1):S2-8. doi: 10.3978/j.issn.2072-1439.2013.05.24.
  • Chamie K, Oberfoell S, Kwan L, Labo J, Wei JT, Litwin MS. Body mass index and prostate cancer severity: do obese men harbor more aggressive disease on prostate biopsy? Urology. 2013 May.81(5):949-55. doi: 10.1016/j.urology.2013.01.021. Epub 2013 Mar 7.
  • Photo courtesy of DixieBelleCupcakeCafe by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/dixiebellecupcakecafe/6223587547/
  • Photo courtesy of USDAgov by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/8455839013/

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