Assess and Address Weight Issues to Curtail Rise in Obesity-Related Cancers

Get Permission

THE RISK FOR developing several obesity-related cancers is rising more rapidly in people aged 25 to 49 than in those older than 50, with the magnitude of the rise steepest in the youngest age group, according to a study published in Lancet Public Health.1 In an interview with The ASCO Post, the study’s corresponding author, Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, PhD, American Cancer Society Scientific Vice President, Surveillance and Health Services Research, stressed “the importance of physicians routinely assessing body mass index (BMI) in their patients and then advising or counseling or referring those patients with a BMI of > 30 kg/m2 to a nutritionist or dietician.”

“Despite national guidelines recommending screening of children and adults for obesity with appropriate provision of (or referral to) ‘intensive, multicomponent behavioral interventions,’ fewer than half of primary care physicians regularly assess BMI in their patients, and only a third of obese patients report receiving an obesity diagnosis or weight loss counseling,” the researchers wrote, citing a previous study on practice patterns of weight assessment and counseling.1 The authors of that previous study noted, “preventive visits may provide a key opportunity for obese patients to receive weight-related counseling from their physician.”2

Dr. Jemal offered several reasons why these guidelines are not being followed by many physicians, including lack of time to assess body weight and counsel obese patients, or refer patients to counseling services.

Role of Oncologists

WHATEVER THE reason, the assessment and referral process “is not routinely done,” but it should be, Dr. Jemal said. Although primary care physicians would most likely be the ones to assess and counsel patients, oncologists “should also counsel their patients about maintaining a healthy body weight, and there is some evidence that a healthy body weight is associated with improved survival,” Dr. Jemal added.

DISCLOSURE: Dr. Jemal reported no conflicts of interest.


1. Sung H, Siegel RL, Rosenberg PS, et al: Emerging cancer trends among young adults in the USA: Analysis of a population-based cancer registry. Lancet Public Health 4:e137-e147, 2019.

2. Bleich SN, Pickett-Blakely O, Cooper LA: Physician practice patterns of obesity diagnosis and weight-related counseling. Patient Educ Couns 82:123-129, 2011.

Related Articles

Rising Rates of Six Obesity-Related Cancers Among Younger Adults

PHYSICIANS SHOULD routinely assess the body mass index (BMI) of their patients and offer counseling and/or referrals to a nutritionist or dietician to patients with a BMI of > 30 kg/m2, Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, PhD, told The ASCO Post. Those actions plus community-level policies designed to increase...