MD Anderson Cancer Center Gets to the Bottom of Obesity’s Role in Cancer

obesityWhile the link between obesity, heart disease and diabetes has long been established, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center reveals that obesity has also been linked to several types of cancer.

Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D., Director of MD Anderson’s new Center for Energy Balance in Cancer Prevention and Survivorship and professor of Behavioral Science, explains that obesity ranks nearly the same as tobacco use among major risk factors for cancer. Her research indicates that, in 2007 alone, more than 50,000 new cases of cancer in women (7 percent) and 34,000 new cases in men (4 percent) were caused by obesity. She adds the fact that obese patients also tend to fare worse in cancer management modalities such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, since the condition contributes to an overall level of poor health.

Although the direct link between cancer and obesity has yet to be made, researchers at MD Anderson continue to search for the cause, and have made some headway is discovering the answers. One possible theory is that fat tissue produces a high level of estrogen, and too much estrogen has been associated with some cancers. Additionally, because obesity may also increase levels of insulin, leading to insulin resistance, this too may promote cancer development.

Dr. Basen-Engquist’s research also notes a possible correlation between cancer tumor growth and obesity as well: “Fat cells also appear to “flip the switch,” affecting tumor growth regulators – a key mechanism of cancer progression – and perhaps producing hormones that stimulate or inhibit cell growth.” Together with the fact that obesity is also associated with inflammation in the body, research is beginning to get some answers on why obesity is so closely associated with cancer.

MD Anderson’s efforts, however, are not only research-oriented. The institute is also working on the prevention end of the issue, having recently established the Center for Energy Balance in Cancer Prevention and Survivorship which, according to the institution’s president, Dr. Ronald DePinho, was founded in order to bring together all of MD Anderson’s resources into a comprehensive and multidisciplinary effort to solve the puzzle behind obesity and cancer.

According to a recent press release:

Building on MD Anderson’s ongoing research in the field, it is working to facilitate collaboration among investigators – including partnerships with other institutions – and expand infrastructure for basic and clinical research in three broad areas:

  • The effect of exercise, nutrition and weight control on outcomes in cancer survivors and people who have an increased risk of developing cancer; 
  • Dissemination and implementation research related to energy balance interventions; and 
  • Behavioral science research in exercise, eating behavior and weight loss.

Among the many studies the center is undertaking is Basen-Engquist’s NCI-funded research on social, psychological and behavioral predictors of a person’s ability to initiate and continue an exercise program.


About Anna Tan, RN

Anna Tan, RN
Anna Tan is a staff writer for BioNews Texas. She is a Registered Nurse (R.N.) and covers a wide range of topics in the Texas Biotech sector.
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