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Understanding the latest cancer research could help you avoid it

Published July 01. 2017 09:02AM

At one time, a male bearing a beer belly made absolute sense. But that time was thousands of years before someone actually brewed the sudsy stuff.

Prehistoric hunters often pursued their prey for days on end. As a result, they often went days on end without significant sustenance. Having extra abdominal fat supplied the needed energy for such an extended hunt without slowing them down the way fat on hips and thighs - where women naturally carry it to aid in child bearing and rearing - would.

But, to shamelessly steal from S.E. Hinton, "that was then, this is now."

Now hunters return each night to the comforts of home or a cabin and a cold brew or two, venison steaks if the hunt has been successful, store-bought steaks or burgers if not, and then a couple of more beers for dessert. This form of modern hunting, along with many other elements of modern living, is why it's not that uncommon for an American male beer belly to weigh 50 or 60 pounds. Yes, that's just the weight of the belly itself, according to Dr. Philip J. Goscienki who pens a column called "Stone Age Doc," and, yes, the bearer of such a belly is probably clinically obese because of it.

Moreover, more modern women have developed beer bellies and - unlike the fat found on a female's hips and thighs - excess body fat in the abdominal region increases the likelihood of heart attack and stroke for both sexes.

And while most people know beer belly fat also increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and accelerate aging, many don't know that a correlation between obesity and an increased incidence of many cancers exists.

Especially our brethren across the Atlantic, the British.

A survey conducted and published last September by the Policy Research Centre for Cancer Prevention at Cancer Research UK, revealed that three out of every four Brits know not of this correlation. In an article posted at Medical News Today, Alison Cox, director of prevention at Cancer Research UK, commented, "Cancer isn't at the forefront of people's minds when talking about obesity and that's really concerning."

What further increases the concern is that the latest research, a review of 204 previous studies, has strengthened the obesity-leads-to-cancer link to the extent where the researchers declared there's "strong evidence" that obesity is directly related to 11 cancers. The review also concluded that obesity increases the odds of developing - and dying of - a wide variety of other cancers.

Some of the most feared cancers that fall into the "strong evidence" group include breast, ovary, kidney, pancreas, colon, rectum, and bone marrow.

Though the researchers admit that research must continue in order to understand exactly how the excess weight increases the odds of getting cancer, they did specifically link an increase in body mass index (BMI) with a host of the worst types of cancer. Their research revealed, for instance, an especially strong link between high BMI and the increased incidence of colorectal, gallbladder, stomach, and ovarian cancer.

For women, it was determined that every for every 11-pound weight increase after menopause, the incidence of breast cancer increased by 11 percent.

Findings such as this one lead Dr. Graham Colditz, a researcher at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, to offer the obvious when Medical News Today asked for a comment about the research. "For those who are overweight or obese," he declared, "taking off some pounds can lower cancer risk."

Another significant study published last year in the journal Nature explained how a high-fat diet helps cancer to spread.

Work performed at the Institute for Research Barcelona first found a link between the production of a certain protein, CD36, and the occurrence of cancer spreading. Researchers then injected mice that already had cancerous tumors with a saturated fat common in animal and vegetable fats.

All of the mice injected with the saturated fat had their cancer spread, but only half of the mice with tumors in a control group that did not get the fat injection encountered the same.

Later, the researchers approached the situation from another angle. They gave mice who already had a type of human oral cancer an antibody known to counteract the previously mentioned cancer-spreading protein, CD36.

In one out of every five mice, the antibody eliminated - yes, eliminated - the cancer completely. Furthermore, in the cases where the cancer was not eliminated completely, the number of the remaining tumors was reduced by 80 percent.

And the remaining tumors were reduced in size.

In essence, the two aforementioned studies linking obesity to cancer further substantiate one of the most frequently recurring themes of this column: that your eating habits really do affect far more than just weight gain. Even if you care little about your appearance, you should care lots about your health.

And reducing the odds of incurring many cancers.

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