Fattening Cancer Risks

Cancer risks can be elevated with excessive ectopic fat

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Being lean isn't just great for a person’s self-esteem. Not having excess fat on the body helps to lower the risks of a number of diseases. And just the opposite is true – too much fat can fatten health risks.

Having excess fat around the abdomen increased a person's risk of both cancer and heart disease, according to a new study.

In fact, people who carried too much fat around the abdomen had a higher cancer risk than people with the same BMI (a measure of body fat) but whose fat was located in other areas.

"Slim down by eating less and moving more."

Caroline S. Fox, MD, MPH, a senior investigator at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Laboratory for Metabolic and Population Health in Framingham, Massachusetts, was the lead investigator for this research.

This study looked at if and how the specific location of fat on a person's body affected the risks of cardiovascular (heart) disease and cancer as well as the risk of dying from any cause.

Having too much fat around the abdomen is already known to be more dangerous than carrying excess weight in other areas, such as the hips and thighs. 

Waist measurements have also been shown to be a risk factor for heart disease. For women, having a waist size of 35 inches or more is considered risky. For men, waist sizes of 40 inches or more can be a problem.

BMI (body mass index) is a measure based on height and weight and is used as a measure of health risks. A BMI of 25 is considered overweight; a BMI of 30 or more is considered obese.

This study used CT (computed tomography) scanning to spot the exact location of fat deposits in 3,086 participants from the Framingham Heart Study.
These participants, 49 percent of whom were women, were followed for up to seven years. The average age of study members was 50 years.

The researchers were examining what’s known as ectopic fat — fat that’s found in tissues where it’s not supposed to be found — in the abdomen and around internal organs, including the heart.

During the follow-up period, 90 people in this study developed heart disease, 141 were diagnosed with cancer and 71 people died.

The researchers found that abdominal fat was associated with about a 44 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease and about a 43 percent higher risk of cancer.

Ectopic fat was not seen to influence death risks.

"The effects of obesity in increased risk of cardiovascular mortality and overall mortality are well known," Edward Giovannucci, MD, ScD, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, told dailyRx News.

"This new study adds further evidence that the distribution of the fat tissue, in particular in the abdominal area, independently predicts higher cancer and cardiovascular disease risks," Dr. Giovannucci said.

Senior study author Caroline S. Fox, MD, MPH, a senior investigator at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Laboratory for Metabolic and Population Health, said in a prepared statement, "Contrary to previously published studies comparing BMI and waist circumference, the presence of abdominal fat improved the ability to predict for cardiovascular disease, supporting the hypothesis that abdominal fat may partially underlie the association of body fat and heart disease and cancer."

Findings from this study were published July 10 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

This work was supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s Framingham Heart Study. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 10, 2013
Last Updated:
July 30, 2013