A woman wears a pair of jeans several sizes too large, showing her weight loss.

Having a healthy body weight is linked to lower risk of many types of cancer, fewer or less severe side effects and symptoms, and in some cases better survival after diagnosis. Body weight is also an important body terrain factor—a condition that influences whether your body is more supportive or less supportive of cancer.

Healthy body weight at a glance

Having a healthy body weight is linked to lower risk of many types of cancer—at least 13 cancer types have known links to obesity. Obesity is linked to other body terrainthe internal conditions of your body, including nutritional status, fitness, blood sugar balance, hormone balance, inflammation, and more factors that are known to support cancer development and growth, including high blood sugar and insulin resistance, hormone imbalances, immune function, inflammation, oxidative stress, and microbiome imbalances. A healthy body weight is linked to fewer or less severe side effects and symptoms, and in some cases better survival after diagnosis.

Whether your goal is to lose weight or gain it, we offer strategies and resources that can help. These are based on keeping your focus on your health and wellness.

Some self-care practices and complementary therapies can help you manage your body weight. These have the best evidence of effectiveness:

What’s a healthy body weight for you?

To measure whether or not body weight may be a concern for you, measuring your Body Mass Index can be a useful tool. Body mass index (BMI) compares your weight to your height; it is calculated as kilograms per meter squared (kg/m²). Most of the research we cite defines overweight as a BMI between 25 and 29.9, and obesity as a BMI of 30 or higher. Underweight is a BMI lower than 18.5. Like the researchers we cite, we realize that BMI is not a perfect measure of overweight or obesity, as it doesn’t differentiate between lean body mass and excess body fat. But a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is a good indicator of healthy body weight for most people.

What can contribute to gain or loss of body weight?

Medical conditions

Underlying medical conditions or imbalances may lead to an unhealthy body weight. Consider addressing these factors with a trained practitioner, such as an integrative or naturopathic physician. See Finding Integrative Oncologists and Other Professionals ›

Insulin resistance1Malone JI, Hansen BC. Does obesity cause type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM)? Or is it the opposite? Pediatric Diabetes. 2019 Feb;20(1):5-9.

Low vitamin D levels2Xu J, Yuan X et al. Association of circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels with colorectal cancer: an updated meta-analysis. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology (Tokyo). 2018;64(6):432-444.

Hormone imbalances

Imbalances in your microbiome

Cancer treatments

In some cases, weight loss or gain may be a direct result of your cancer treatments. Consider speaking with your healthcare team on strategies to support you. Focusing on your health and wellness through the 7 Healing Practices and addressing body terrainthe internal conditions of your body, including nutritional status, fitness, blood sugar balance, hormone balance, inflammation, and more factors may support your health and wellbeing even as you are experiencing weight loss or gain as a side effect of cancer treatment.

  • Chemotherapy may cause problems with eating and digestion leading to unintended weight loss.3Nutrition in Cancer Care (PDQ®)–Patient Version. National Cancer Institute. May 24, 2022. Viewed September 17, 2022.
  • Hormone therapy may lead to unintended weight gain.4Nutrition in Cancer Care (PDQ®)–Patient Version. National Cancer Institute. May 24, 2022. Viewed September 17, 2022.
  • Steroids and cranial radiation are linked to obesity.5Esbenshade AJ, Simmons JH, Koyama T, Lindell RB, Friedman DL. Obesity and insulin resistance in pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia worsens during maintenance therapy. Pediatric Blood & Cancer. 2013 Aug;60(8):1287-91.

Other medications

Some prescription medications can lead to unintended weight gain. “Common drugs that cause unwanted pounds include corticosteroids, antidepressants, diabetes medications such as insulin or those containing sulfonylureas, some heartburn drugs, hormone therapy/contraceptives, and anti-seizure drugs such as Depakote®.”6Prescription Medications & Weight Gain. Obesity Action Coalition. Viewed January 19, 2023. 

Weight gain is listed as a rare side effect of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.7Ogbru A, Marks JW. COX-2 Inhibitor Medications. Rx List. Viewed February 8, 2021; Pantziarka P, Sukhatme V, Bouche G, Meheus L, Sukhatme VP. Repurposing Drugs in Oncology (ReDO)-diclofenac as an anti-cancer agent. Ecancermedicalscience. 2016;10:610.

Making changes

We encourage you to keep your focus on your health and wellness, whether you’re trying to lose or gain weight. Our 7 Healing Practices, including Eating Well and Moving More can support you in achieving a healthy weight as part of overall health.. 

If you would like support in practices to promote a healthy weight and overall health, see our recommendations for making changes in each of these handbooks:

Losing weight

Weight loss interventions from hospitals or other groups involving advice and support on eating and physical activity often lead to weight loss.8Shaikh H, Bradhurst P et al. Body weight management in overweight and obese breast cancer survivors. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2020 Dec 11;12(12):CD012110. If you think this could help you, ask your doctor to refer you to a local or online program.

Resources for losing weight

Gaining or maintaining weight

If gaining weight or preventing weight loss is the issue you’re facing, you’ll find advice from these resources:

Resources specific to gaining or maintaining weight during or after cancer treatment:

Authors

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher and Program Manager
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Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher, program manager, and writer for CancerChoices. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher and Program Manager

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
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Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Reviewer

Miki Scheidel

Co-Founder and Creative Director
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Miki Scheidel is Co-founder and creative director of CancerChoices. She led the effort to transform Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies, the prior version of CancerChoices, to its current form. Miki and her family were deeply affected by her father’s transformative experience with integrative approaches to metastatic kidney cancer. That experience inspires her work as president of the Scheidel Foundation and as volunteer staff at CancerChoices. She previously worked with the US Agency for International Development and Family Health International among other roles. She received her graduate degree in international development from Georgetown University, a graduate certificate in nonprofit management from George Mason University, and a Bachelor of Arts from Gettysburg College.

Miki Scheidel Co-Founder and Creative Director

Last update: January 27, 2023

Last full literature review: August 2021

CancerChoices provides information about integrativein cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care, and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan cancer care. We review complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocialtherapy, and acupuncture therapies and self carelifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices to help patients and professionals explore and integrate the best combination of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy and complementary therapies and practices for each person.

Our staff have no financial conflicts of interest to declare. We receive no funds from any manufacturers or retailers gaining financial profit by promoting or discouraging therapies mentioned on this site.

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