Low muscle mass puts obese cancer patients at greater health risks

By • Published: March 20th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Being obese can make it hard to fit into an airplane seat or get enough exercise. There’s something else: New research shows that in cancer patients, obesity combined with depleted muscle mass could lower the chances of survival and make chemotherapy drugs more toxic.

People who have the condition, called sarcopenic obesity, have muscle mass comparable with those who are very underweight or emaciated, even though they are obese.

Canadian researchers checked patients’ muscle composition using C-T images of the lower back. Fifteen percent of the obese patients studied had sarcopenia [sar-ko-pee-nee-uh].

Obese patients with sarcopenia lived ten months shorter, on average, than obese patients without the condition.

The amount of chemotherapy administered to cancer patients is generally based on a person’s total body weight. But people with high body weight and low muscle mass have less muscle for the drugs to circulate in. That could lead to accumulation of the drugs in a smaller area, and possibly, greater toxicity.

Men, people older than sixty-five, and patients with colorectal cancer were found to be most at risk for sarcopenic obesity.

Obese patients with sarcopenia were more likely to report lower levels of physical activity than those who did not have the condition. Less muscle makes it harder to support excess body weight.

The findings suggest that body composition, not just body weight or body mass index… which looks at weight relative to height… should be monitored routinely during the care of cancer patients.