Excessive Body Fat and Wider Waists May Up Colon Cancer Risk

Men with the largest waist sizes in a study of 120,000 adults had a 63 percent greater risk of developing cancer than small-waisted men

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Older men and women who are thick around the middle may have an increased risk of developing colon cancer.

A study in the Netherlands followed over 120,000 Dutch adults between the ages of 55 and 69 who reported their height, weight, their pants or skirt size, and their weight at age 20 to researchers. Over the next 16 years, about two percent of the study participants developed colorectal cancer, and the risk was 25 percent greater for men who were overweight or obese at the beginning of the study.

Men with the largest waist sizes had a 63 percent greater risk of developing cancer than men with the smallest waist measurements.

In women, the findings were different. Abdominal fat was associated with colorectal cancer only when combined with low levels of exercise, defined as less than 30 minutes a day. Women who wore greater than a size 16 in pants (greater than 44" waist) and got little exercise were 83 percent more likely to develop colon cancer than women in the high physical activity group who had smaller waist measurements.

Laura Hughes of Maastricht University in the Netherlands and lead researcher said that this study provides even more evidence that excessive body fat may be a risk factor for colorectal cancer. Though it's not clear why abdominal fat in women was associated more so with colorectal cancer only when combined with little exercise, Hughes encouraged women to focus less on the scale and more on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Abdominal obesity has been linked to other chronic health conditions, like diabetes and heart disease, and it seems to be associated with chronic, low-level inflammation in the body. In the United States, over 142,000 people were diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2007 (the most recent statistic) with over 50,000 dying from the disease.

According to the American Cancer Society, lifestyle choices can increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Those risk factors include diet, physical inactivity, obesity, smoking, heavy alcohol use, and type 2 diabetes. Guidelines for screening for colon cancer can be found here.

The study appeared in the October issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Image: Tish1/Shutterstock.

This article originally appeared on TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com, an Atlantic partner site.