According to a meta-analysis conducted by British researchers, rapid and unintended weight loss is not to be taken lightly. It would even be the second most important risk factor involved in 10 types of cancer.
Fortuitous and unexplained weight loss can be a predictor of cancer. This is highlighted in a meta-analysis by researchers at Oxford University and the University of Exeter. Their study, funded by the National Institute of Health Research and published in the British Journal of General Practice, reveals that unintentional weight loss is the second most important risk factor for cancers, including colorectal, pulmonary cancer, pancreatic cancer and renal cancer.
10 types of cancers involved
To reach this conclusion, the researchers analyzed the results of 25 studies, integrating the data of more than 11.5 million patients collected between 1994 and 2015. They then discovered that involuntary weight loss was related to 10 types of cancer: prostate, colorectal, lung, oesophageal, pancreatic, ovarian, renal and biliary cancers, but also non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or myeloma.
In patients over 60, this sudden weight loss exceeded the 3% risk threshold for urgent medical investigations, the study reveals. The average risk of developing cancer increased by 6.7% among women over 60 and by 14.2% among men of the same age.
“We have always known that unintentional weight loss can be a cancer risk. This study brings together all the published evidence and demonstrates beyond a doubt that it is important to take it into account in saving lives from cancer,” says Dr. Willie Hamilton of the University of Exeter and co-author of the study. “This is particularly timely with the announcement this week of the opening of a one-stop shop for the diagnosis of cancer. These units bring together all the necessary tests under one roof, which makes the investigation of weight loss much faster and convenient for the patient”.
Weight loss, a symptom not to be neglected
For Dr. Brian Nicholson of Oxford University and lead author of the study, it is indeed urgent to generalize “simplified services” that will allow GPs to better take into account non-specific symptoms such as weight loss and make them aware that they are “vital and urgent if we want to fight cancer earlier and save lives”.
“We must now continue our research to evaluate the most appropriate combination of tests and deliver recommendations regarding the level of weight loss,” he continues.