Search for link between childhood obesity, cancer

Researchers hope the answer could help them find new treatments

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LOS ANGELES, Calif. - As the number of obese children continues to rise, there's concern that the number of childhood cancer cases will as well. Researchers are hoping that finding the link between the two could be the answer to finding new treatments.

16-year-old Saloman Chavez was a typical teen, enjoying dominos with dad and reading, a typical teen until he started developing bruises on his arms.

Saloman became one of nearly 13,000 American children diagnosed with cancer each year, a number that's expected to rise as the incidence in childhood obesity does the same.

"Obesity seems to increase the risk of developing cancer, but also from dying cancer," explained Pediatric Endocrinologist Steven Mittelman, MD, PhD at the Children's Hospital.

In fact, obese patients have more than a 50-percent increased risk of dying from cancer compared to lean patients. Mittelman studies obesity in children with leukemia.

"We found that obesity actually accelerates leukemia cells growth and progression and it makes it harder to treat the leukemia cells," Mittelman explained.

His team found fat cells attract and protect cancer cells. It's a discovery that could lead to new treatments.

"If we can find out how exactly these fat cells protect leukemia cells, then we can work on developing strategies to block this; perhaps medications," Mittelman said.

Mittelman believes that changing an overweight child's diet at diagnosis may help their prognosis. Today, Saloman is eating healthier, still trying to beat his dad at dominos, and looking forward to a day he's beaten cancer as well.

Parents, you can help keep your kids weight in check by keeping them away from sugary drinks and food, encouraging them to stay active and modeling good healthy habits.

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