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More Evidence That Obesity Raises Odds for Gastrointestinal Cancers

Key Takeaways

  • Excess weight and obesity in early, middle and late adulthood were associated with later gastrointestinal (GI) cancer risk in a new study

  • Weight increases also upped the odds for GI cancers like colon cancer

  • Researchers now need to determine who would benefit from cancer prevention agents, the authors said

FRIDAY, May 12, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Maintaining a healthy weight may be important for reducing the risk of gastrointestinal cancer, a new study suggests.

The research adds to the evidence that excess weight and weight increases in adulthood increase the risk for colon and other gastrointestinal (GI) cancers.

“In a time when obesity rates are rising globally and 70% of the U.S. population alone is considered overweight or obese, understanding the association between obesity and long-term disease risk, such as cancer, is critical for improving public health,” said study lead author Holli Loomans-Kropp, a cancer control researcher and epidemiologist with the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, in Columbus.

"Our study suggests that being overweight or obese during several phases of life can increase a person’s risk for gastrointestinal cancers in later adulthood,” she added in a university news release.

A body mass index (BMI) that reached levels for obese or overweight in early, middle and late adulthood increased the risk of GI cancer. Frequent aspirin use did not change this increased risk in overweight and obese people.

Obesity and overweight are linked to at least 13 types of cancer, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

For the new study, researchers evaluated previously collected data from more than 131,000 patients enrolled in the multicenter Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial between 1993 and 2001. Participants were aged 55 to 74 at the time of enrollment.

Fat cells can trigger an inflammatory response and promote immune cell dysfunction, according to the researchers. This can lead to cardiovascular diseases like stroke, metabolic conditions like type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

The researchers used age 20 as their definition of early adulthood, 50 for middle age and 55 or older as later adulthood. They also noted how often the participants took aspirin or aspirin-containing products.

The study, published online May 10 in JAMA Network Open, followed participants for 13 years or until Dec. 31, 2009, whichever came first.

“We believe that the results of this study highlight the need to better understand the underlying mechanisms of cancer prevention agents as well as who may or may not benefit from their use. The field of precision prevention is still relatively new but is an exciting avenue for cancer prevention research,” Loomans-Kropp said.

Colon cancer is the third most common cancer among men and women in the United States.

The study was partially funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more on colon cancer.

SOURCE: Ohio State University Medical Center, news release, May 10, 2023

What This Means For You

Maintaining a normal weight is already recommended for overall health. These new findings add yet another reason to keep an eye on the scale.