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Maximum Wellness, Episode 8: How You Carry Your Body Fat May Place You at Greater Risk to Cancer

In the August 2019 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Justin C. Brown, Director of the Cancer Metabolism Program at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center and colleagues report that,  “for colorectal cancer patients, new research shows a clearer connection than previously known between fat deposits in certain areas of the body and higher rates of death from all causes within seven years of cancer diagnosis.”

This new knowledge, notes Brown, can aid physicians as they develop more personalized treatment plans for colorectal cancer patients.

Brown, who was the lead study author – “Association of Abdominal Adiposity with Mortality in Patients with Stage 1-3 Colorectal Cancer: A Population-Based Cohort Study (C-Scans)” – commented that, “the conventional wisdom for many years has been that fat is bad for you.  Period.  End of story.  But it’s more complicated than that.”

Dr. Brown and his colleagues examined the health outcomes of more than 3,200 colorectal cancer patients, stages I-III, in Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California Region, who were diagnosed between 2006 and 2011. The researchers examined the patients’ health outcomes through the end of 2016. The study population had their visceral and subcutaneous adipose (fat) tissue quantified by computed tomography (CT scan).

Visceral fat is a body fat stored within the abdominal cavity – located in close proximity to the liver, stomach, and intestines, along with the associated arteries. Subcutaneous fat, the deepest layer located under the skin, develops based on genetics and the level of physical activity versus caloric intake – too many calories and too little movement, as primary drivers of this storage fat.

It was determined that male colorectal cancer patients – with a high amount of belly fat stored just under the skin (subcutaneous) – were more than twice as likely to die within seven years of diagnosis, as male patients with very little belly fat.

Female colorectal cancer patients, however, with a high amount of visceral fat ­ were more than twice as likely to die within seven years of diagnosis, as female patients with very little visceral fat.

The take-away message is that we have the opportunity to stop renting our health and take ownership, before it owns us. That said, it’s recommended that men keep their waistline under 40 inches going into their fourth decade and beyond, while women need to use 35 inches as their cutoff.

Time for change is now. Consult a licensed dietitian for proper guidance, if you see your waistline expanding, especially with little change on the scale.