Visceral adiposity and cancer survival: a review of imaging studies

Eur J Cancer Care (Engl). 2018 Mar;27(2):e12611. doi: 10.1111/ecc.12611. Epub 2016 Dec 6.


Although obesity is a well-known risk factor for cancer, the association between obesity and cancer survival remains controversial. This is partially due to the inability of conventional obesity measures to directly assess adiposity or adipose tissue distribution. As a metabolic organ, visceral adipose tissue (VAT) secrets a variety of cytokines and cytokine-like factors, potentially affecting cancer survival. The objective of this review was to investigate the influence of imaging-assessed VAT on cancer survival. A total of 22 studies assessing the impact of visceral adiposity on survival were included. Negative associations between VAT and survival were more frequently observed among patients with colorectal (four of six studies) and pancreatic (three of five studies) cancers, compared to higher VAT predicting longer survival in most studies of renal cell carcinoma patients (four of five studies). Methodological limitations, including unstandardised VAT measurement methods, lack of other body composition measurement (i.e. muscle mass), small sample size and heterogeneous cohort characteristics, may explain controversial findings related to the impact of VAT on cancer survival.

Keywords: CT/MRI imaging; cancer survival; visceral adiposity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity*
  • Humans
  • Intra-Abdominal Fat / diagnostic imaging*
  • Neoplasms* / mortality
  • Neoplasms* / physiopathology
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity, Abdominal / complications
  • Obesity, Abdominal / diagnostic imaging*
  • Prognosis