Obese cancer patients often shorted on chemo doses

Published: Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013 11:32 a.m. CDT

Obese people are less likely to survive cancer, and one reason may be a surprising inequality: The overweight are undertreated.

Doctors often short them on chemotherapy by not basing the dose on size, as they should. They use ideal weight or cap the dose out of fear about how much treatment an obese patient can bear. Yet research shows that bigger people handle chemo better than smaller people do.

Even a little less chemo can mean worse odds of survival, and studies suggest that as many as 40 percent of obese cancer patients have been getting less than 85 percent of the right dose for their size.

Now, the largest organization of doctors who treat cancer, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, aims to change that. The group has adopted guidelines urging full, weight-based doses for the obese.

Don’t call it supersizing; it’s right-sizing cancer care, said Dr. Gary Lyman, a Duke University oncologist who led the panel that wrote the advice.

“There’s little doubt that some degree of undertreatment is contributing to the higher mortality and recurrence rates in obese patients,” he said.

The Food and Drug Administration’s cancer drug chief, Dr. Richard Pazdur, agrees.

“By minimizing the dose, or capping the dose, we have been undertreating patients,” he said.

The dosing issue applies to all types of cancer treated with chemo — breast, colon, lung, ovarian and even blood diseases such as leukemia.

60 percent of Americans are overweight. It affects a lot of people.

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