FRIDAY, Feb. 7, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Obese people who are diagnosed with tongue cancer might be at increased risk of dying from the disease, a small new study finds.
Researchers looked at about 150 people who had surgery for early stage squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue and found that obese patients had a five-fold increased risk of death.
Three years after surgery, 87 percent of normal-weight patients were alive, compared with 68 percent of obese patients, according to the findings, which were published recently in the journal Cancer.
The study is the first to link obesity and increased risk of death in patients with any type of head or neck cancer, the researchers said.
They said previous studies have found an association between obesity and worse outcomes among patients with several common cancers, including breast and colon cancers.
"The role of obesity across several common cancers is a focus of increased attention," study senior author Dr. Clifford Hudis, chief of breast cancer medicine at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, said in a center news release. Hudis is also president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Because the study was so specific in terms of the cancer's location in the body and disease stage, it helped clarify the effect of obesity, another researcher said.
"Most prior research investigating the interaction between [obesity] and head and neck cancers included multiple tumor sites and disease stages," study first author Dr. Neil Iyengar, a medical oncology and hematology fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering, said in the news release. "Due in part to these confounding factors, it previously had been difficult to clearly understand the role of obesity in head and neck cancers."
"By focusing on a single site and a more select patient population, we designed our study to better identify new and relevant prognostic factors for this particular type of cancer, which could lead to further refined and tailored treatment strategies down the road," Iyengar said.
Although the study found an association between obesity in patients with tongue cancer and higher risk of death, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about obesity and cancer risk.