How does body fat distribution link to the risk of aggressive prostate cancer?

An image to illustrate body fat distribution and how it relates to aggressive prostate cancer
© iStock/ sefa ozel

The first prospective study of the link between measured body fat distribution and aggressive prostate cancer has been done.

Prior studies have demonstrate an association between obesity and an elevated risk of advanced prostate cancer, as well as a poorer prognosis after diagnosis. In this study of the relationship between body fat distribution and prostate cancer risk, researchers found that high levels of abdominal and thigh fat are associated with an increased risk. It has been published in CANCER.  

Assessing the risk of fatal prostate cancer

The team analysed body fat distribution by assessing the risk of diagnosis and death from prostate cancer in 1,832 Icelandic men who were followed for up to 13 years. They did this using the gold-standard measure of computed tomography imaging.

During the study:

  • 172 men developed prostate cancer and 31 died from the disease;
  • The accumulation of fat in specific areas, such as visceral fat deep in the abdomen or surrounding the organs and thigh subcutaneous fat was associated with the risk of advanced and fatal prostate cancer; and
  • High body mass index (BMI) and high waist circumference were also associated with higher risks of advanced and fatal prostate cancer.

Barbra Dickerman, PhD, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said: “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. The precision of these estimates was limited in this subgroup analysis, but this is an intriguing signal for future research.”

The importance for future research on obesity and aggressive disease

Dickerman concluded: “Ultimately, identifying the patterns of fat distribution that are associated with the highest risk of clinically significant prostate cancer may help to elucidate the mechanisms linking obesity with aggressive disease and target men for intervention strategies.”

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