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Higher BMI associated with increased cancer risk with or without cardiometabolic

People with higher BMIs are more than ten percent more likely to develop cancers such as colorectal, kidney, pancreatic or ovarian cancer, regardless of whether they have a cardiometabolic disorder (cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes) or not, reports a paper published in BMC Medicine. The findings, based on a sample of over 500,000 European adults, also suggest that having cardiovascular disease alongside a higher BMI is associated with an even greater risk of cancer, highlighting the need for obesity prevention to reduce cancer risk in these groups.

A BMI of more than 25 is an established risk factor for at least thirteen types of cancer, including breast cancer in postmenopausal women, colorectal, liver, kidney, pancreatic and ovarian cancers. However, it is not clear whether high BMI alone is associated with increased risk, or whether the presence of other obesity-related conditions such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes my play a part.

Heinz Freisling and colleagues used data from a total of 577,343 adults from the UK Biobank (344,094 participants) and European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and nutrition (EPIC) (233,249 participants) study cohorts to investigate the association between BMI and cancer in adults with or without cardiometabolic diseases. Follow-up from recruitment was a median of 10.9 years for both cohorts, and 32,549 (9.5%) participants in UK Biobank developed primary cancers, compared to 19,833 (8.3%) participants in the EPIC. 76,881 (22%) of UK Biobank participants were obese compared to 36,361 (15%) of EPIC participants.

In total, for individuals without a cardiometabolic disorder, a five-point increase in BMI score was associated with an 11 percent increased risk obesity-related cancers. A similar increased risk was observed among participants that did have a cardiometabolic disorder; those with type 2 diabetes saw an 11 percent increased risk per five-point increase in BMI score, while those with cardiovascular disease saw a 17 percent increase in risk.

The results demonstrate the increased cancer risk associated with increased BMI, regardless of whether the individual has other cardiometabolic conditions. However, obese individuals with cardiovascular disease appeared to be at particularly increased risk of cancer, suggesting that targeted intervention to lose weight could benefit this group.


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Notes to editor:

1. Research article:

“Body mass index and cancer risk among adults with and without cardiometabolic diseases: evidence from the EPIC and UK Biobank prospective cohort studies”
BMC Medicine 2023
DOI: 10.1186/s12916-023-03114-z
The article is available at the journal website.

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