Obesity predisposes to cancer and there are gender differences

Obesity is known to be associated with an increased risk of cancer, but most studies do not distinguish between the different risks faced by male and female patients. Now, Swedish scientists have found that the overall accumulation of fat and its distribution in different parts of the body leads to different cancer risks depending on sex differences. Related research was recently published in Cancer Cells.

“Doctors and scientists know that obesity increases the risk of cancer, but little is known about the link. These observations are important for risk assessment and insight into obesity-related disease risk. Mathias Rask-Andersen, first author and researcher at Uppsala University, said.

“An important aspect of obesity-related disease risk is the distribution of fat in different parts of the body.” Asa Johansson, corresponding author of the paper and Uppsala University, said fat stored in the abdomen is thought to be more pathogenic than subcutaneous fat. In addition, the amount of fat stored in different parts and the incidence of cancer vary between women and men.

This is the starting point for the team’s study of obesity-related cancer risk.

The researchers used data from the UK Biobank, which contains data from 500,000 British residents aged between 37 and 73 who were recruited between 2006 and 2010 and then followed for an average of 13.4 years, including details of their body fat distribution and whether they had cancer.

They used the Cox proportional hazards model to determine the relationship between the level and distribution of body fat in participants at the time of initial assessment, and their later cancer incidence. The team found that all types of cancer, with the exception of brain, cervical, and testicular cancers, were associated with at least one obesity-related trait.

In women, the strongest association between total fat accumulation and cancer was gallbladder, endometrium, and esophageal cancer. In men, the strongest association between total fat accumulation and cancer is breast cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, and renal cell carcinoma. There are differences in the effect of sex on colorectal, esophageal, and liver cancers in terms of fat accumulation and distribution. For example, a larger proportion of fat stored in women’s abdomen is associated with esophageal squamous cell carcinoma but not with men. In addition, body fat accumulation is associated with a higher risk of liver cancer in men, an effect that is not present in women.

Unexpectedly, the researchers found that the effects of obesity on cancer risk differed not only between men and women, but also between postmenopausal and premenopausal women. “Most notably, obesity is only a risk factor for postmenopausal breast cancer, possibly due to changes in estrogen production after menopause.” Johansson said.

However, the researchers pointed out the limitations of the study, particularly that it was largely limited to white British participants — nearly 95 percent of the British biobank. Therefore, the findings may not apply to other races. They also said that because the participants were older, the findings may not be directly applicable to younger populations.

They plan to conduct more research to help fully understand the molecular mechanisms behind these findings. Future work will also focus on genetic and environmental risk factors for cancer, which are not static but vary throughout a person’s lifetime, such as a closer look at changes in the effects of obesity around menopause.

“Given the rapid growth in global obesity rates, obesity is now a greater risk factor for cancer.” Rask-Andersen said, “Therefore, preventing and reducing obesity and overweight has a very positive effect. However, it is important to consider that losing weight does not eliminate the risk of cancer. There are also many individual risk factors that have a greater impact on specific types of cancer, such as lung cancer caused by smoking and skin cancer caused by sun exposure. (Source: China Science News, Jinnan)

Beware of the cancer risk associated with obesity. Image courtesy of Pixabay

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