Belly fat and thigh fat linked to aggressive prostate cancer, study finds

Cancer Is Now The Leading Cause of Death in Many US Counties

Obesity has been linked to multiple health conditions, including oncologic ones like prostate cancer, the most prevalent cancer in men.

And now new research published in the medical journal Cancer suggests specific body fat distribution, particularly in the belly and thighs, may increase risk of aggressive prostate cancer.

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To examine the role of fat distribution, researchers with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health used computed tomography imaging (a gold standard measure in the field) and examined the risk of prostate cancer among a group of 1,832 men in Iceland, 172 of whom developed the cancer and 31 of whom died from the disease. Researchers followed the men for up to 13 years.

In addition to a high body mass index, researcher Barbra Dickerman and her colleagues noted high waist circumference was also associated with higher risk of advanced and fatal prostate cancer.

"Interestingly, when we looked separately at men with a high BMI versus low BMI, we found that the association between visceral fat and advanced and fatal prostate cancer was stronger among men with a lower BMI," Dickerman said in a news release. "The precision of these estimates was limited in this subgroup analysis, but this is an intriguing signal for future research."

Ultimately, researchers said, identifying such patterns in high-risk fat distribution areas may help implement new intervention strategies, including adjustments in diet and exercise.

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The new study is the first prospective research of its kind to directly measure body fat distribution and prostate cancer risk.

Prostate cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer death among men of all races and Hispanic origin populations, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And it disproportionately affects black men. According to the agency, Georgia has one of the highest prostate cancer death rates in the country.

Most men with prostate cancer never experience symptoms and without screening, many wouldn’t even know they had the disease. But the CDC notes for ever 1,000 men between 55 to 69 years who are screened, about one death could be prevented.

The CDC urges men in that age group to make individual decisions about being screened for prostate cancer with what’s called a prostate specific antigen test. It’s important to talk to your doctor about the benefits and harms of screening before making the decision.

Read the full study at onlinelibrary.wiley.com.

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