Obesity and belly fat linked to aggressive prostate cancer

QUEBEC CITY, Quebec — Obesity can act as a trigger for a number of health issues and diseases. Now, a new study is adding more evidence that prostate cancer risk has a concerning connection to a patient’s waistline. Researchers from the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) report that their findings suggest abdominal obesity in particular leads to a greater risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer.

In an effort to better understand the connection between cancer incidence and body mass, study authors analyzed a dataset originally collected in Montréal between 2005 and 2012.

“Pinpointing the risks of aggressive cancer is a big step in health research because they are the most difficult to treat,” says study leader Professor Marie-Élise Parent in a media release. “These data can allow us to work in prevention, by monitoring men with this risk factor more closely.”

Importantly, this work indicates that where excess fat and mass resides within the body makes a notable difference. Study authors say it boils down to whether a patient’s extra fat concentrates around the abdomen and stomach, or sits in various areas throughout the body. If the person has more belly fat, that individual may be at a greater risk of prostate cancer.

Why doesn’t general obesity pose the same prostate cancer risk?

Researchers can’t say for sure, but theorize it may have a link to detection bias and other possible biological effects.

Abdominal obesity leads to hormonal and metabolic variations that can promote the growth of hormone-dependent cancer cells. It is associated with a decrease in testosterone, as well as a state of chronic inflammation linked to the development of aggressive tumors,” explains main study author Éric Vallières, a Université de Montréal student conducting his doctoral research at INRS.

“In obese people, the protein that detects cancers at an early stage, prostate-specific antigen (PSA), is diluted in the blood. This hemodilution would make cancers more difficult to detect.”

Moving forward, study authors would like to see more research focusing specifically on the timing of obesity exposure over a lifetime, as well as more studies on body fat distribution. Such an approach may provide more understanding of how obesity influences prostate cancer risk.

According to the CDC, prostate cancer is the most common form of the disease among American men aside from non-melanoma skin cancer. It’s also one of the leading causes of death among men of all races.

The study appears in the journal Cancer Causes & Control.