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Doctors overlook obesity link to cancer

More training needed for cancer clinicians to improve prevention

Adrian O'Dowd

Tuesday, 08 November 2011

Some doctors are failing to give patients essential information about the link between obesity and cancer, claims new research presented today at the National Cancer Research Institute Cancer Conference in Liverpool.

Researchers from Dundee University warned that not enough was being done to prevent obesity related cancers developing or to reduce the risk of cancers returning after treatment.

The researchers investigated the acceptability of offering advice about weight loss through changing diet and physical activity for people who had previously had pre-cancerous polyps that had been detected through bowel screening.

They found that patients who had been through diagnosis and treatment for bowel cancer had been given very little guidance on post treatment diet, physical activity or weight management.

Further research found that health care professionals involved in the treatment and after care of patients with bowel cancer felt uncomfortable about discussing diet and lifestyle with their patients and they did not necessarily see it as part of their role.

Existing guidance from a various agencies recommends that lifestyle advice should be part of bowel cancer patients’ follow up treatment.

Professor Annie Anderson, study author from Dundee University, said: “Our results show we’re missing key opportunities to provide crucial information to the people who need it most. Obesity is having a huge impact on cancer incidence worldwide. If we are to tackle the rising cancer incidence, we must do all we can to combat obesity.

“Cancer doctors and nurses need better training in how to approach this sensitive subject. And for patients, who have already been treated for bowel cancer and are overweight, the slate needs to be wiped and they should be advised and supported to eat a healthy diet and take regular exercise – to stack the odds against the cancer returning.”

Dr Jane Cope, director of the National Cancer Research Institute, said: “Scientists estimate that in the UK, the current number of people who are overweight and obese could lead to around 19,000 cases of cancer a year. So this is an important area of research and health care professionals should consider whether they can be more proactive in offering advice.”

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