Obese kids with leukaemia don't react as well to chemotherapy

A study showed that obesity made young people more than twice as likely to have leftover leukaemia cells. That puts them at a higher risk of the cancer coming back and of death, the researchers said.

The findings could explain why obese young people do worse on initial chemotherapy – called induction therapy – than their peers who aren't obese.

Read: Gene mutations sign of childhood leukaemia risk

"Induction chemotherapy provides a patient's best chance for remission or a cure," principal investigator Dr. Steven Mittelman, of The Saban Research Institute of Children's Hospital Los Angeles, said in a hospital news release.

Negative impact


"Our findings indicate that a patient's obesity negatively impacts the ability of chemotherapy to kill leukaemia cells, reducing the odds of survival."

However, the current study was only designed to find a connection between pre-treatment obesity and leftover cancer cells. It wasn't designed to prove that obesity was the definitive cause of the poorer outcomes.

For the study, the researchers focused on nearly 200 patients between the ages of 1 and 21 years. About one-third were overweight or obese, as defined by the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read: Immune-system therapy may help leukaemia

Researchers found that those with so-called "minimal residual disease" – leukaemia cells that can be detected by sensitive methods – were more likely to have poor results over the next two to five years.

Worst outcomes

The patients who were obese and had residual disease had the worst outcomes of all in the study.

"In addition to increasing a patient's likelihood of having persistent disease following treatment, obesity appears to add a risk factor that changes the interaction between chemotherapy and residual leukaemia cells," said the study's co-lead investigator Dr. Hisham Abdel-Azim of The Saban Research Institute in the release.

Read: Today's parents blind to kids' obesity

Gaining weight during the first month of treatment didn't appear to worsen outcomes, the study found.

The study was published online in the journal Blood.

Read More:

Young girl’s ‘cure’ signals new path against cancer
Breakfast cereal tied to lower BMI for kids
Kids' cancer treatments may cause heart trouble

Image: Chubby boy from Shutterstock.

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