Location of Body Fat Could Affect Colorectal Cancer Survival Rate

Rachel Morrell

Location of Body Fat Could Affect Colorectal Cancer Survival Rate

A new study suggests body fat in “unhealthy” areas doubles colon cancer patients’ mortality risk within seven years of diagnosis.

Surface Fat vs. Visceral Fat

When it comes to body fat and colon cancer, location matters. A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reports fascinating findings regarding body composition and obesity. Previous research led physicians to believe all stored body fat was dangerous. According to Justin C. Brown, Ph.D., Director, Cancer Metabolism Program at Louisiana State University's Pennington Biomedical Research Center, the relationship between fat storage and health is quite complex.

Dr. Brown and his team evaluated health outcomes of more than 3,200 colon cancer patients in stages I, II and III, and they discovered fat location made a significant difference in risk of colon cancer death among men and women.

For men, surface abdominal fat was more dangerous. Male colon cancer patients with high amounts of abdominal fat just under the skin were two times more 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 than fat just under the skin. Visceral fat is fat that is stored deep within the abdomen and surrounds vital organs such as the intestines, liver and pancreas. 

Customized Colon Cancer Treatment Plans

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

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

"Colorectal cancer patients and their oncologists need to know how obesity and body composition predict clinical outcomes after diagnosis," Dr. Brown said. "However, patients have found there are few clear answers to even the simplest of questions, such as, 'Will my weight influence my outcome?' or 'Should I lose some weight?'"

Know Your Risk of Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. In 2019, there will be an estimated 140,250 new cases of colorectal cancer in 2019.

Your risk of developing colon cancer is about one in 20, but certain risk factors could increase your risk for the disease. These risk factors include:

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

Call a Gastroenterologist

According to the American Cancer Society, adults who are at average risk for colon cancer should start getting screened at age 45. A colonoscopy is the most thorough colon cancer screening because it examines the entire length of the colon for lesions and precancerous polyps. Other tests like stool tests and flexible sigmoidoscopy can detect abnormalities but cannot prevent or diagnose colon cancer.

If you are not under the care of a gastroenterologist, click here and enter your zip code in the orange box. You can quickly access a list of GI treatment centers near you, and you can call today to make an appointment.

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