Body size matters with colon cancer


Carrying excess weight in the waist and hips may increase an older woman's risk of dying from colon cancer, according to a new study in a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. Healthy seniors who maintained a normal weight before getting diagnosed were more likely to survive, the study found.

For an average of 10 years, researchers followed about 1,100 postmenopausal women suffering from colon cancer and found heavier women were more likely to die from the disease than thinner women in the same age group. They suspected more than added weight was to blame. Scientists looked at data for weight, body mass index, or BMI, waist size and waist-to-hip ratio and found that carrying extra pounds at the waist and hips appeared to be more of a factor in colon cancer deaths than overall weight or BMI.

"Women whose waists were 37 inches or larger had a 34 percent increased risk of dying from colon cancer than women with smaller waists of 32 inches or less," said lead study author Anna Prizment, cancer epidemiologist with the Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

The study also found that underweight women were more likely to die from colon cancer than women who maintained a normal weight before being diagnosed. Prizment is quick to point out, however, that the number of very thin women in the study was small and much of the data from this group was unavailable.

Still, there's much to be gained from the research according to Dr. Peter Campbell, Director of the Tumor Respository at the American Cancer Society who was not involved in the study.  It looked at women and weight issues before cancer diagnosis, not after, he noted.  Many studies have linked obesity with an increase risk of developing colon cancer but not dying from the disease, he added.

"This study adds important new information to our understanding of the role of excess body size and health and underscores the importance of maintaining a healthy body size through out  life," explains Campbell.

According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer is the third most common cancer found in men and women in the US. Death rates have declined over the past 15 years mostly due to better screening and treatments. People 50 and older should get regular screenings such as a colonoscopy. And maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help people of all ages.

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Filed under: Cancer • Women's Health