Body Fat Location Can Double Risk of Colon Cancer Death

A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reports intriguiging findings regarding body composition and obesity.

Although obesity is a major risk factor for colon cancer, body fat in specific locations increases colon cancer death risk. Body fat in “unhealthy” locations doubles colon cancer patients’ mortality risk within seven years of diagnosis.

Body Fat and Gender

Previous research led physicians to believe all stored body fat was dangerous. According to Justin C. Brown, Ph.D., Director of the Cancer Metabolism Program at LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center, the relationship between fat storage and health is complicated.

Dr. Brown and his team analyzed health outcomes of more than 3,200 colon cancer patients who had colon cancer in stages I, II and III, and they discovered the location of body fat influenced the risk of colon cancer mortality among men and women.

Surface abdominal fat was more dangerous for men. Male colon cancer patients with high percentages of abdominal fat just under the skin were twice as likely to die within seven years of diagnosis as men with small amounts of belly fat under the skin.

For women, visceral fat was more dangerous. Visceral fat is fat that is stored deep within the abdominal cavity and surrounds vital organs such as the pancreas, liver and intestines.

CT Scans and Colon Cancer Treatment

Dr. Brown says the new research could help doctors develop customized colon cancer treatment plans. Patients often undergo computed tomography (CT) scan before surgery to determine whether cancer has metastasized, or spread, to other organs. Dr. Brown suggests CT scans may serve another purpose:  determining the location and the amount of stored abdominal fat.

The team intends to conduct more research, but this study underscores the importance of regular doctor visits to evaluate overall health.

Know Your Risk of Colon Cancer

Are you aware of your risk for colon cancer? The odds of developing colon cancer are about five percent, or one in twenty. Certain factors can increase your risk for developing the disease. These include:

  • Age
  • High-fat diet
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol use
  • Family history of colon cancer or colon polyps
  • Inflammatory bowel disease

A common myth is that only older adults develop colon cancer, but young-onset colon cancer incidence is increasing every year. Unhealthy habits and poor lifestyle choices can put you at risk for digestive disease. However, you can take charge of your health and lower your risk for colon cancer by:

  • Eating a high-fiber, low-fat diet
  • Limiting fatty meats, red meats and processed meats
  • Eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Getting 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day
  • Visiting your doctor for annual well visits
  • Getting routine colon cancer screenings

Make an Appointment with Your Gastroenterologist

According to the American Cancer Society, adults who are at average risk for colon cancer should start getting screened at age 45. If you are at increased risk for colon cancer, you may need to get screened earlier. Call your GI doctor and ask if you need to schedule a colon cancer screening. Most preventive screenings are covered by Medicare and private insurance, so call today for an appointment.