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Body fat location may predict cancer risk in older people

The area of the body where fat is stord may predict cancer risk in older people, researchers say.

The area of the body where fat is stored may predict cancer risk in older people, researchers say

cancer bmi
A bigger waistline can add to the risk of obesity-related cancers. Picture: iStock

Cancer risk in older people may be predictable by the area of the body where fat is stored, researchers say.

Scientists at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC-WHO) found that three different measurements of body size – body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and waist to hip ratio – all predicted similar obesity-related cancer risk in older adults.

The study combined data from around 43,000 male and female participants with an average age of 62 and 63 who had been followed for an average of 12 years, and more than 1,600 were diagnosed with an obesity-related cancer.

The research, published in the British Journal of Cancer, showed that adding around 11cm to the waistline increased the risk of obesity-related cancers by 13%.

Not just BMI

For bowel cancer, adding around 8 cm to the hips is linked to an increased risk of 15%.

The study is believed to be one of the first comparing adult body measurements in such a standardised way for obesity-related cancers.

Dr Heinz Freisling, lead study author and scientist at the IARC-WHO, said: ‘Our findings show that both BMI and where body fat is carried on the body can be good indicators of obesity-related cancer risk. Specifically, fat carried around the waist may be important for certain cancers, but requires further investigation.

‘We think it’s important to study more than just BMI when looking at cancer risk.’


Freisling H et al (2017) Comparison of general obesity and measures of body fat distribution in older adults in relation to cancer risk: meta-analysis of individual participant data of seven prospective cohorts in Europe. British Journal of Cancer. doi:10.1038/bjc.2017.106

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