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Bowel cancer could be a bigger risk for fat women than it is for fat men

Bowel cancer could be a bigger risk for fat women than it is for fat men, new study suggests

  • Woman more typically gain weight on their hips and thighs which increases risk
  • Led by University of Bristol and International Agency for Research on Cancer 
  • Found women who are apple-shaped are at greater risk of getting bowel cancer
  • Secretes chemicals which cause inflammation, increasing chance of tumours 

Women who are apple-shaped may have a greater risk of getting bowel cancer than men with beer bellies, according to a study of more than 100,000 individuals.

They more typically gain weight on their hips and thighs, so that if they have larger waistlines, this may indicate they are carrying more fat overall. 

This raises the risk of cancer by secreting chemicals which cause inflammation, which it is believed, increases the chance of tumours developing.

A study led by the University of Bristol and the International Agency for Research on Cancer looked at thousands of bowel cancer patients and at those clear of the disease.

They more typically gain weight on their hips and thighs, so that if they have larger waistlines, this may indicate they are carrying more fat overall (file image)

A relatively small difference in waist-to-hip ratio among women was found to increase the risk of bowel cancer by 25 per cent. But for men, the same waist-to-hip difference raised this by five per cent.

Body mass index, however, appeared more important for men. This is a calculation based on a person’s weight divided by their height.

For an increase in a man’s BMI score of 4.2 points, their risk of bowel cancer was 23 per cent higher. For women, the same increase meant only a nine per cent higher risk.

Dr Emma Vincent of the University of Bristol, said: ‘We found that where fat is on our body may lead to different health outcomes for men and women. 

This could inform specific prevention strategies.’ The study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, looked at 125,915 people from 45 studies on bowel cancer.  

This type of cancer, which is strongly linked to obesity, affects more than 42,000 people every year, and causes more than 16,000 deaths.

The research is one of the largest genetic studies to look at men and women’s weight and bowel cancer risk.

A relatively small difference in waist-to-hip ratio among women was found to increase the risk of bowel cancer by 25 per cent (file image)

A relatively small difference in waist-to-hip ratio among women was found to increase the risk of bowel cancer by 25 per cent (file image)

Experts suspect people who are overweight, or carry excess weight around their middle, may provide extra nutrients which fuel tumours.

Natasha Paton, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, which funded the research along with Diabetes UK and World Cancer Research Fund International, said: ‘It’s well established that keeping a healthy weight affects many types of cancer.

‘Most research linking excess weight to cancer uses BMI, but this study adds to the evidence that carrying excess fat around the waist is also important.’

Genevieve Edwards, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK, said: ‘This study adds to the growing evidence that being overweight or obese and carrying a lot of weight around your waist can increase your risk of bowel cancer.

‘We know that around half of all bowel cancers could be prevented by having a healthier lifestyle. ‘Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK – every 15 minutes someone is diagnosed. 

‘Making simple changes to your diet like having plenty of wholegrains and fibre, avoiding processed meat and limiting red meat, being of a healthy body weight, having regular physical activity, stopping smoking and cutting down on alcohol can help stack the odds against developing bowel cancer.’ 

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