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BMI and cancer

Study shows rise in BMI increases cancer risk

A single point population-wide increase in BMI would result in 3,790 additional annual UK patients developing one of the ten cancers positively associated with BMI

Being overweight and obese puts people at greater risk of developing ten of the most common cancers, according to a study published in the Lancet. The study investigators sought to examine the links between BMI and the most common site-specific cancers and examined over five million patient records, which included 166, 955 cases of the ten most common cancers.

"There was a lot of variation in the effect of BMI on different cancers,” said lead researcher, Dr Krishnan Bhaskaran from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK. “For example, risk of cancer of the uterus increased substantially at higher body mass index, for other cancer we saw a more modest increase in risk or no effect at all. This variation tells us BMI must affect cancer risk through a number of different processes, depending on cancer type.”

They found that BMI was associated with 17 of 22 cancers, but effects varied substantially by site.  Although obesity was associated with the development of the most common cancers - which represent 90% of the cancers diagnosed in the UK, some showed no link at all. In addition, there is some evidence to suggest a higher BMI is associated with a lower chance of getting prostate cancer.

Each five point increase in BMI was roughly linearly associated with cancers of the uterus (p<0·0001), gallbladder (p<0·0001), kidney (p<0·0001), cervix (p=0·00035), thyroid (p=0·0088), and leukaemia (1p≤0·0001). BMI was also positively associated with liver, colon, ovarian and postmenopausal breast cancers, but these effects varied by underlying BMI or individual-level characteristics.

More worryingly, they estimated that single point population-wide increase in BMI would result in 3,790 additional annual UK patients developing one of the ten cancers positively associated with BMI.

Led by scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine researchers gathered data on five million people living in the UK, monitoring changes to their health over a period of seven years.

The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research, Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council.

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