Your Waistline Can Predict Cancer Risk

British scientists find it's not just how much you weigh but where your weight accumulates that can have a bearing on cancer risk.

Jun. 29, 2017
By Mary West

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Scientists know that obe­sity is an estab­lished risk fac­tor for can­cer. Now, researchers find that excess weight in the waist­line and hips is as much of a pre­dic­tor of the dis­ease as body mass index (BMI), a mea­sure­ment denot­ing the ratio of weight to height.

Both BMI and where body fat is car­ried on the body can be good indi­ca­tors of obe­sity-related can­cer risk.- Heinz Freisling, International Agency for Research on Cancer

The author of the new study said an ele­vated risk of cer­tain can­cers and dia­betes starts with a waist mea­sure­ment of 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women. Why is this so?

Excess body fat ele­vates insulin lev­els, pro­motes inflam­ma­tion and alters sex hor­mones like estro­gen and prog­es­terone, all of which are fac­tors that have been linked to a height­ened like­li­hood of can­cer.

Moreover, accord­ing to the M.D. Anderson Center at the University of Texas, extra pounds in the belly indi­cate that fat is accu­mu­lat­ing around and dam­ag­ing some impor­tant organs. Increased fat in this area sig­nals the body to man­u­fac­ture more insulin, which can even­tu­ally lead to can­cer, they explained.

In the study, researchers fol­lowed health data on 43,000 par­tic­i­pants for 12 years. During this time, more than 1,600 peo­ple were diag­nosed with obe­sity-related can­cer. A cor­re­la­tion of waist­line size with can­cer diag­noses asso­ci­ated a gain of four inches to the waist­line with a 13 per­cent rise in obe­sity-related can­cer risk. In addi­tion, it linked a gain of three inches to the hips with a 15 per­cent rise in colon can­cer like­li­hood.

Our find­ings show that both BMI and where body fat is car­ried on the body can be good indi­ca­tors of obe­sity-related can­cer risk. Specifically, fat car­ried around the waist may be impor­tant for cer­tain can­cers, but requires fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tion,” said Heinz Freisling, lead study author and sci­en­tist at the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

To bet­ter reflect the under­ly­ing biol­ogy at play, we think it’s impor­tant to study more than just BMI when look­ing at can­cer risk. And our research adds fur­ther under­stand­ing to how peo­ple’s body shape could increase their risk.”

After smok­ing, obe­sity is the biggest pre­ventable cause of can­cer. It’s asso­ci­ated with 13 types of malig­nancy; namely, col­orec­tal; kid­ney; esoph­a­gus; breast; uter­ine; pan­creas, liver; gall blad­der; ovar­ian; thy­roid; gas­tric car­dia, the part of the stom­ach near­est to the esoph­a­gus; mul­ti­ple myeloma, a blood can­cer; and menin­gioma, a type of brain tumor.

This study fur­ther high­lights that how­ever you mea­sure it being over­weight or obese can increase the risk of devel­op­ing cer­tain can­cers, includ­ing breast and bowel,” said Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s head of health infor­ma­tion.

It’s impor­tant that peo­ple are informed about ways to reduce their risk of can­cer. And while there are no guar­an­tees against the dis­ease, keep­ing a healthy weight can help you stack the odds in your favour and has lots of other ben­e­fits too. Making small changes in eat­ing, drink­ing and keep­ing phys­i­cally active that you can stick with in the long term can help you get to a healthy weight — and stay there.”

The study was pub­lished in the British Journal of Cancer.


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