Weight gain linked to poorer survival rate for bowel and breast cancer patients

Important new findings from World Cancer Research Fund show that a higher BMI means an increase in death rate for people with breast or bowel cancer.

25 May 2022

Leading cancer prevention and survival charity, World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) today announces research findings showing that higher body weight measured by body mass index (BMI) in early to mid-adulthood means a poorer survival rate for both breast and colorectal (more commonly known as bowel) cancer patients.

BMC Cancer research findings

The research, which was published in BMC Cancer, studied a European cohort of 159,045 patients tracked between 1992 and 2000. BMI measurements were taken on a frequent basis. Findings show that for adults aged between 20 and 50, an increase in BMI of 1kg/m2  meant a 6% increase in death rate for bowel cancer patients. For breast cancer patients, for every 1kg/ m2 increase in BMI there was a 4% increase in death rate.

Findings also showed that although a history of cardiometabolic disease (CMD) such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease is associated with a 46% increase in risk of death, BMI has a direct effect on cancer survival irrespective of whether the individual also has CMD.

Dr Panagiota Mitrou, Director of Research and Innovation at World Cancer Research Fund, said:

Adding to the wealth of research on two common forms of cancer, this study shows that exposure to higher body weight in early to mid adulthood plays a major part in cancer prognosis. We know that maintaining a healthy weight throughout your lifetime isn’t always easy, yet the importance of doing this cannot be overstated.

Dr Heinz Freisling, Scientist at International Agency for Research on Cancer and study author, said:

This multi-centre study was carried out to further explore the relationship between comorbidities and cancer survival. It is striking that both BMI and cardiometabolic disease were found to have a direct bearing on survival outcomes independently of each other for bowel and breast cancer patients at two key points in adulthood. This suggests that the increased risk of dying due to patients being overweight or obese cannot be explained by comorbidities.

World Cancer Research Fund’s Eat Well During Cancer offers advice to people on a healthy diet and lifestyle. Based on the latest scientific research, the guide is practical and simple to understand for those living with cancer.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK. There were more than 2.26 million new cases of breast cancer in women in 2020.

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, with the second highest mortality rate. There were more than 1.9 million new cases of colorectal cancer in 2020.


In this research, a standard measure of kg/ m2.was used to calculate the study participants’ BMI.

World Cancer Research Fund is part of a network of charities based in the UK, EU and US. This particular study was funded by the World Cancer Research International grant programme and by the French National Cancer Institute.

Notes to editors

For a copy of the research paper and media enquiries contact Diana Mackie, Communications Manager at World Cancer Research Fund, at d.mackie@wcrf.org / 07717 131883

About World Cancer Research Fund

World Cancer Research Fund is the UK’s only charity solely dedicated to cancer prevention and survival. Over the last 30 years, World Cancer Research Fund has worked tirelessly to understand the links between a person’s weight, diet, and physical activity levels and their cancer risk. www.wcrf-uk.org and Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & LinkedIn.

World Cancer Research Fund’s Cancer Health Check helps people to see if their daily habits are putting them at risk of cancer. The BMI calculator is a tool for individuals to check if they are in the healthy weight range.