A study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research’s International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research, held in New Orleans, has shown that obesity and inflammation in late adolescence are associated with an increased risk for colon and rectal cancer in adulthood.
The study was preformed over a period of 35 years, where researchers analyzed data of roughly 240,000 Swedish males from 1969 to 1976 when they were between 16 and 20 years of age.
The patient’s erythrocyte sedimentation rate was measured as a marker of inflammation and height and weight were recorded. The team then linked patient records with data from the national cancer registry, to identify subjects from this study group who had developed colorectal cancer.
In the beginning of 2010, researchers found that 501 men had developed colon cancer while 384 had developed rectal cancer.
Furthermore, they realized that obesity was tightly linked with a 2.37 times higher risk of developing colorectal cancer, since individuals between 16 and 20 years of age who were obese had an increased risk of developing both colon or rectal cancer, when compared to normal weight subjects.
Importantly, teenagers with high levels of inflammation had an associated 63% higher risk of developing colorectal cancer, when compared to patients with normal inflammation levels.
“These results are important because we know relatively little about the role of early life exposures in the development of colon cancer,” lead researcher Elizabeth Kantor, a postdoctoral research fellow in the department of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston stated in a HealthDay interview.
Nonetheless, the author emphasizes that the results obtained from this study do not prove beyond doubt that obesity and inflammation during adolescence are the definite cause of the increased risk for colorectal cancers, since the data generated can lead to associations but cannot say whether or not the relation is causal.
“We know that the development of colon cancer takes many years. So it is important to understand whether it’s obesity earlier or later in life that is more influential,” Dr.Andrew Chan, an associate professor in the department of medicine at Harvard Medical School stated in the interview.
“We have long known that obesity is associated with an increased risk of almost all cancers, and obesity is associated with inflammation. A healthy lifestyle is the best defense we have against obesity, inflammation, and the dangers these portend over a lifetime,” Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, concluded.
Nonetheless, researchers agree that more studies are necessary to determine how obesity and inflammation can influence colorectal cancer risk at different stages in life.