Metabolic Syndrome in Women May Increase Colon Cancer Risk

Rachel Morrell

Woman Holds Prescription Pills During Doctor’s Visit

May is Women’s Health Month, a time to focus on issues concerning women’s wellness. One health concern that impacts many women, especially as they approach menopause, is body weight.

Obesity Poses Risks to Health

The hormonal changes of menopause can make women more likely to gain weight around the abdomen, as lost muscle mass gives way to increased body fat. According to National Obesity Trends, over 70 percent of American adults are overweight or obese and 7.7 percent are severely obese.

Metabolic Syndrome Risk Factors and Chronic Disease

For decades, researchers have linked colon cancer to obesity and diabetes. But a recent study by Juhua Luo, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Indiana University Bloomington's School of Public Health, suggests that even women of normal body weight could be at risk for colon cancer if they exhibit other metabolic risk factors such as:

  • High blood sugar (hyperglycemia)
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Elevated blood fats
  • Low levels of good cholesterol (HDLs)

These metabolic risk factors are collectively known as metabolic syndrome and can increase the incidence of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and colon cancer. 

What is the common link among these metabolic risk factors? Researchers are still unsure, but it appears to be insulin resistance caused by high body fat, low physical fitness and genetics. Insulin resistance increases the risk for metabolic syndrome, which increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and colon cancer.

Luo emphasizes that you should “know your own metabolic health, even if your weight is normal.” Thirty percent of normal-weight adults worldwide are metabolically unhealthy, so health is not synonymous with body weight (Health Day).

Keep Metabolic Syndrome Risk Factors Under Control

Prevent precursors to colon cancer like insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome through annual physicals. Your provider will check your blood pressure and conduct lab panels and can advise as to when you are due for a colonoscopy.

Currently, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends screening for colon cancer beginning at age 50, but the incidence of young-onset colon cancer is steadily rising. Instead of using age as the benchmark for colon cancer screening, what if we could prioritize screening according to metabolic type? More research needs to be done, but that might be a reality someday.

Colon cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer death in the United States, but it is more than 90 percent treatable if diagnosed in the early stages. Let’s get more people screened for colon cancer, and let’s get them screened early enough to prevent it.

Click here to contact one of our board-certified gastroenterologists to perform your colonoscopy at a convenient, low-cost ambulatory surgery center. You’ll receive quality care with personal service.

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