There is scary news this week from the American Association for Cancer Research. It seems postmenopausal women diagnosed with colon cancer greatly increase their risk of death if they are “underweight” or “obese” or if they previously had abnormal belly fat prior to their cancer diagnosis.
Writing in the September issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, Dr. Anna E. Prizment, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center, said belly fat appears to be a “useful indicator of higher colon cancer mortality.”
It is too early to say if lowering your weight after diagnosis will also decrease mortality risk Dr. Prizment said. “[When colon cancer is diagnosed] it may be too late. Maintaining a healthy body weight throughout your life is beneficial for those diagnosed with colon cancer later in life, as well as greatly benefiting postmenopausal women.”
Increased belly fat often accompanies women as they age, especially after menopause. The good news is that a few lifestyle changes and some targeted abdominal exercises can help you battle your belly bulge and lower serious health risks.
Prizment and colleagues looked at data from the Iowa Women’s Health Study, which included 1,096 women diagnosed with colon cancer over two decades. During that period 493 women in the study group died, 289 from colon cancer.
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a reliable measure to calculate body fat used by health professionals to screen for weight categories that potentially lead to a variety of health problems. The measure is based on a person's height and weight.
Women are classified obese if their BMI is 30 or more. In this study, obese women increase their risk for death by 45 percent. The few women classified as underweight with a BMI of 18.5 or less, had an 89 percent increased risk for death compared to women with normal (18.5 to 24.9) BMI measurements.
Dr. Prizment found that women with high waist-to-hip ratios had a 30 to 40 percent greater risk of colon cancer related death. She said the exact mechanisms underlying the link between obesity and higher mortality in cancer patients are unknown, but obesity could be a barrier in diagnosing colon cancer early, which greatly affects what treatment options are available and increases the risk of a better outcome.
She said the study clearly showed abnormal belly fat was associated with increased colon cancer death even after allowing for age, stage of cancer at diagnosis and other disorders or diseases being present in addition to colon cancer. This suggests that obesity directly affects women’s health.
“Obese women, especially those with abdominal obesity, have elevated hormone levels that typically produces a more aggressive cancer,” said Dr. Prizment. “These women have already been known to have a higher risk of developing colon cancer.”
The National Cancer Institutes concluded in 2001 that colon cancer, breast cancer in postmenopausal women, endometrial cancer (which affects the lining of the uterus), kidney cancer, and esophageal cancer are all associated with obesity. Some studies have also reported links between obesity and gallbladder cancer, ovarian cancer and pancreatic cancer.
Lynette Summerill is an award-winning writer who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues, she writes a blog, Nonsmoking Nation, which follows global tobacco news and events.