Leukemia and weight gain

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Learn why children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) are at risk for becoming overweight.

Key points

  • Medicines your child takes during leukemia treatment can increase their chances of becoming overweight and can make them feel hungrier.
  • A lack of physical activity during treatment can also increase their risk of being overweight.
  • Being overweight can lead to obesity, which can put a child at risk for health problems.

Some children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) may become overweight. They are at most risk of gaining weight during their treatment and up to one year after finishing it. Encourage your child to adopt healthy eating habits and be physically active. Developing these habits early on in treatment is important to prevent obesity, which can put a child at risk for serious health problems.

Some ALL survivors are at risk of developing:

  • high blood pressure
  • high blood sugar levels; this is because their treatment makes it difficult for their bodies to break down sugar in the blood
  • increased amount of fats in the blood (hyperlipidemia)

Alongside obesity, having any of these problems can increase the chances of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. These problems increase with age, which is why making healthy lifestyle choices early on is essential.

Why are children with leukemia at risk of becoming obese?


While the medicines your child takes during treatment kill cancer cells, they can also increase the chances of becoming overweight. Some children with high-risk ALL may receive radiation to their brain, which can also make them at risk of becoming obese.


Your child takes corticosteroid medications called prednisone or dexamethasone, which are an important part of their treatment. These medicines can increase your child’s appetite. As a result, your child may feel hungrier than usual, and eat more. Making sure your child eats healthy, nutritious food during treatment will minimize the likelihood that they will become overweight later on. Talk to your child’s doctor or dietitian in the hospital to find out how you can help your child maintain a healthy body weight.

Please visit Good nutrition during leukemia treatment for more information.

Lack of physical activity

During treatment, parents and teachers often make the mistake of completely restricting physical activity. While there are some physical activities that need to be restricted and may not be safe for your child, being physically inactive is unhealthy. After treatment, kids may also adopt an inactive lifestyle. If your child takes steroids (and possibly radiation), it is that much more important that they do some exercise when they can, both during and after treatment. This will minimize their risk of becoming overweight and is a good lifestyle practice for general health and wellbeing.

Your child’s doctor or physiotherapist can help you to choose activities that are safe, fun, and healthy for your child.

Last updated: March 6th 2018