According to the results of a study conducted in Europe, individuals with larger waist measurements have an increased risk of developing colon cancer. Body size, however, was not linked with risk of rectal cancer. These results were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. The disease develops in the large intestine, which includes the colon (the longest part of the large intestine) and the rectum (the last several inches).
The link between body size and colorectal cancer has been examined in several studies. In general, these studies have found that higher body weight increases the risk of colon cancer in men but not women. Most studies have not found a link between body weight and risk of rectal cancer.
Body weight measures only one aspect of body size. Factors such as height and the distribution of body fat may also be important. To evaluate several measures of body size in relation to the risk of colon and rectal cancer, researchers studied information from the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study. Information was available for 368,277 study subjects. An important aspect of this study is that body size was measured directly and not based on self-report.
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All study participants were free of cancer at the start of the study. During an average of roughly six years of follow-up, 984 subjects developed colon cancer and 586 developed rectal cancer.
- As was observed in other studies, increasing body weight and body mass index (a comparison of weight to height) were linked with an increased risk of colon cancer in men but not women.
- Factors that increased the risk of colon cancer in both men and women were greater waist size, waist-to-hip ratio (a comparison of waist size to hip size), and height.
- The five-year risk of developing colon cancer was 203 cases per 100,000 men with the highest waist-to-hip ratio, and 131 cases per 100,000 men with the lowest waist-to-hip ratio. Among women, the risk was 129 cases per 100,000 women with the highest waist-to-hip ratio and 86 cases per 100,000 women with the lowest waist-to-hip ratio.
- No measure of body size influenced the risk of rectal cancer.
The researchers concluded that waist size (both the measurement of the waist alone as well as the size of the waist in comparison with the hips) is linked with colon cancer in both men and women. Larger waist measurements increase risk.
Reference: Pischon T, Lahmann PH, Boeing H et al. Body Size and Risk of Colon and Rectal Cancer in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2006;98:920-931.