Study Finds Low Muscle Quantity, Quality Predicts Poor Outcomes Post-Surgery for Colon Cancer

A study published in JAMA Surgery found that low quantity and low quality of muscle can predict poor outcomes after colon cancer surgery.

Both low quantity and low quality of muscle were found to predict poor outcomes for patients undergoing colon resection surgery, according to a study published in JAMA Surgery.

The team, led by researcher Carla Prado of the University of Alberta's Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences, found a link between low muscle mass and greater post-operative complications, hospitalization and mortality rates.

"It's like you're looking at a steak and you have fat inside the steak,” said Prado in a press release. “Our muscles can be like that too, and that's not good for us--so our study looked at both the mass (the quantity) and also the quality of the muscles, which is the amount of fat infiltration.”

For the data collection, the research team followed 1630 patients who previously received a stage 1 through stage 3 colon cancer diagnosis. Then, they looked at a number of outcomes for patients following colon resection surgery including length of hospital stay, need for readmission, and mortality.

The patients were then assessed via CT preoperative computerized tomography (CT) scans. The scans, which involve taking a series of X-ray images from different angles and the creation of cross-sectional images of the body, are taken during cancer diagnosis. Researchers also have the ability to use the images to analyze a patient’s body composition.

"It is possible to preoperatively improve muscle, and through that intervention we can better people's quality of life,” said Prado in a press release. “So I think exploring ways that we can successfully use this approach is the way of the future."

The team focused on patients with colon cancer for a number of reasons, including the CT scans and a patient’s typical body mass. The images produced from CT scans span the body to the third lumbar vertebrae, which is an ideal frame to help assess body composition. As for body mass, patients with colon cancer commonly fall into the obese category of weight ranges, which offers added insight to the research.

Prado also added that the ability to predict which patients will suffer poorer outcomes post-surgery will help to personalize treatment to each individual, ultimately improving patient care. The knowledge that low muscle quality and quantity can lead to poor post-operative outcomes will have a major impact on patient care through “targeted patient interventions.”

The Canadian Cancer Society expects colon cancer to be the second-leading cause of cancer death for Canadian men and third-leading cause of cancer death for Canadian women in 2020. While surgery is typically used to remove the cancer, post-operative complications can negatively impact a patient’s quality of life.


Low quantity and quality of muscle predicts poor outcomes in colon cancer surgery [news release]. University of Alberta. Published October 27, 2020. Accessed November 24, 2020.