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Fat Influences Cancer Development

S u m m a r y :
Adipose tissue—fat—might affect cancer development, suggests a new study published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research. Watch out for obesity!

Fat & Cancer

Fat occurs naturally in our bodies, deposited as layers underneath the skin, and around certain organs; it makes up the bulk of a connective tissue known as adipose tissue. However, too much of it, or in the wrong places, is bad news, and the presence of an excess of it might be playing a crucial role in the development of cancer—the two might be connected in more ways than one, suggests the new study conducted by researchers from the University of Utah.

The influence of excessive fat on cancer will vary, depending on the type of fat, and its location in the body.

Culprit: Obesity

The study forms part of a growing body of research that aims at determining the links between obesity and cancer. Obesity has been declared one of the main risk factors for cancer: it is tied to 16 different types of the disease. This situation demands that the specific mechanisms through which obesity exacerbates cancer are known, explains study author Cornelia M. Ulrich.

According to Ulrich, previous research has shown that obesity comes with a higher risk of inflammation, which can, then, lead to cancer. Furthermore, the condition is thought to impact on cancer cell metabolism and immunity in such a way that the growth and propagation of tumours are encouraged. Ulrich and her team have focused on another aspect whereby fat and carcinogenesis are linked: through crosstalk, a term defining the response of cells to a signal that is common to signalling pathways of two different cell types.

Understanding Crosstalks

Interrupting these crosstalks might pave the way to developing strategies to prevent cancers from developing, explains Ulrich. With this goal in mind, the team studied papers documenting crosstalk between adipose tissues and carcinomas.

The review showed that certain adipose cells could get into cancer lesions, thereby promoting the growth of tumours. These cells were found to be in greater abundance in obese patients suffering from prostate and breast cancer.

Another finding is that some forms of fat are more metabolically active—this means that they secrete more substances that encourage cancer growth.

When looking into the effects of fat on some cancer types, the team has found that adipose tissue is typically found adjacent to tumours for colorectal cancer while it is part and parcel of the direct tumour environment in breast cancer.

“We are just beginning to unravel the ways crosstalk occurs and the substances involved,” Ulrich said. “The more we understand this process, the better we can identify targets and strategies for decreasing the burden of obesity-related cancer.”

Importance of Healthy Lifestyles

This review stresses the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight. Furthermore, as Ulrich points out, slender people might be at risk too, if they have too much of fat around their internal organs. Ulrich also provides a solution: a lifestyle incorporating healthy diets as well as exercise which caters for the building of lean muscle mass.

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