Increased Abdominal Fat Associated With Higher Cancer Risk

Brielle Urciuoli

A higher percentage of body fat – specifically fat in the abdominal area – was associated with an increased risk of certain cancers for postmenopausal women, according to a recent study presented at the 2017 European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) Congress in Madrid, Spain.

The study examined 5,855 women and followed them over the course of 12 years. They underwent dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) to measure their body fat and composition. Overall, 811 women ended up getting cancer – 293 had breast cancer, 345 with lung or gastrointestinal (GI) cancer diagnoses and 173 with other types of cancer.

Researchers found that women with a high abdominal to peripheral fat ratio had an increased chance of getting either lung or GI cancer. These results are particularly important postmenopausal women are prone to abdominal weight gain.

“The average elderly women can very much use this information, as it is known that the menopause transition initiates a shift in body fat towards the central trunk area. Therefore, elderly women should be especially aware of their lifestyle when they approach the pre-menopause age,” Line Mærsk Staunstrup M.D., MSc, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, and lead author of the study, said in a press release.

“Clinicians can additionally use the information for a preventive conversation with women who are in higher risk of cancer. While clinicians have access to whole body DXA scanners at most hospitals, portable DXA scanners have become available on the commercial market and this may allow regional bone and fat scanning, however it may not be the most reliable for measuring central obesity,” she concluded.

Staunstrup emphasized that measures of body mass index (BMI) or fat percentage may not be the best measures to predict a woman’s weight-related cancer risk, as they do not look at the distribution of body fat – something found to be a key feature in this study.

This type of weight gain is typically associated with the over-consumption of simple carbohydrates in foods such as potatoes, wheat, rice and corn, and increases the amount of insulin in a person’s blood stream. Increased insulin and adipose (fat) cells can increase inflammation – another risk factor for numerous types of cancer.

Other factors found to increase cancer risk included older age, getting hormone replacement therapy and smoking.

“While obesity has previously been linked to cancer risk, the link to lung cancer is new and intriguing,” said Andrea De Censi, M.D. from Galliera Hospital, in Genova, Italy. “These data open the door for clinicians to initiate a number of interventions in obese patients. In addition to fat loss with diet and exercise, there may be a potential role for a diabetes drug, such as metformin, which can lower insulin effects and contribute to cancer prevention.”
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