A recent study published in the journal Cancer Cell indicates that both the accumulation of fat and its distribution in the body pose different cancer risks for men and women.
Furthermore, these risks vary across different types of cancer, such as colorectal, esophageal, and liver cancer.
“While the medical community is aware that obesity increases cancer risk, the general public may be less informed,” said the study’s first author, Mathias Rask-Andersen from Uppsala University in Sweden.
“Moreover, the distribution of fat in different parts of the body also plays a significant role in disease risk, which can differ based on gender.”
The researchers analyzed data from the UK Biobank, a database consisting of information from 500,000 UK residents aged between 37 and 73, who were followed for an average of 13.4 years.
The data included details about the participants’ body fat distribution and whether they developed cancer.
Using statistical methods, the researchers found links between overall fat accumulation and various cancers.
In women, the strongest associations were with gallbladder cancer, endometrial cancer, and esophageal adenocarcinoma.
For men, the strongest associations were with breast cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, and renal cell carcinoma. The impact of fat distribution also varied between men and women for certain types of cancer.
“We were surprised to find differences in the effects of obesity on cancer risk between men and women and even between pre- and post-menopausal women,” said the study’s senior author, Åsa Johansson, also from Uppsala University.
“Notably, obesity is only a risk factor for breast cancer after menopause, likely due to changes in estrogen production.”
The authors noted some limitations of the study, such as the demographic makeup of the UK Biobank, which is predominantly white, and the age of the participants.
Consequently, the findings might not be directly applicable to other ethnic groups or younger populations.
The researchers plan to continue their studies to better understand the molecular mechanisms behind these findings.
They will also examine how genetic and environmental risk factors for cancer, which can change over a person’s lifespan, interact with obesity.
“With obesity rates increasing rapidly worldwide, it is becoming one of the fastest-growing risk factors for cancer,” said Rask-Andersen.
“Preventing and reducing obesity is crucial. However, it is equally important to remember that reducing weight does not entirely eliminate the risk of cancer, as other individual risk factors, such as smoking for lung cancer and sun exposure for skin cancer, can play a significant role.”
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The study was published in Cancer Cell.
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