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Researchers Tied Obesity and Cancer using Radiographic Imaging

Update Date: Dec 04, 2013 01:54 PM EST

In a new study, researchers set out to examine the relationship between cancer and obesity. The research team from the National Institute for Aging used direct radiographic imaging of adipose tissue, also known as body fat, in order to determine obesity. The team strayed away from using BMI (body mass index), which measures mass in relation to height, because it is not always a reliable measurement of fat. The team found that adiposity had a negative impact on the long-term health of older people.

"[The] results suggest that adiposity may carry risk for cancers beyond those identified as obesity-related by the National Cancer Institute and further suggest a possible sex differential with respect to adipose and cancer risk," the researchers wrote according to a press release.

For this study, the researchers recruited 2,519 adults who were from the Health, Aging, and Body Composition Study, which was a population-based study funded by the National Institute of Aging. The researchers were able to measure the participants' total body fat as well as body fat inside of the abdomen and thigh by using radiographic images. The images also helped researchers measure visceral fat, which is the adipose surrounding the internal organs, and subcutaneous fat. The participants were tracked for over 13 years.

"I think it's important to realize that BMI is not the only indicator of health to concentrate on. After controlling for risk factors we found that greater fat confers risk for cancer in older men and women. For example, women with more overall fat mass and more visceral fat had a higher risk of developing cancer," the lead author, Dr. Rachel Murphy said. Murphy is a researcher at the Laboratory of Epidemiology, and Population Sciences, Intramural Research Program, National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, MD. "For men, greater visceral adipose was a particularly strong risk factor for many types of cancer regardless of the individual's BMI. Men with the most visceral fat had a nearly 3 times higher risk of many types of cancer (esophagus, pancreas, colon and rectum, kidney, thyroid, and gallbladder) compared to men with little visceral fat. When we controlled for BMI, the risk for visceral fat was strengthened."

The study, "Association of total and computed tomographic measures of regional adiposity with incident cancer risk: a prospective population-based study of older adults," was published in the journal, Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.

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