Obesity and risk for diagnosis with prostate cancer

A new report from the International Agency Research on Cancer (IARC) Handbook Working Group has concluded that there is a definitive link between “body fatness”  and increased risk for diagnosis with 13 different types of cancer — but prostate cancer is not on that list.

An executive summary of the evidence supporting this report (drawn from a careful review of > 1,000 research publications from around the world) was just published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and an easy-to-follow commentary can be found on the “Well” blog site of The New York Times. The full report will presumably be forthcoming on the web site of the IARC (see here), but is not available yet.

Reports like this get a lot of news coverage, but reports like this also need to be interpreted with care. The “New” Prostate Cancer InfoLink would note that although, on a global basis,  the finding that there is no clear, current evidence of a link between obesity and risk for prostate cancer diagnosis is obviously “good” for overweight males in general, there are numerous reports suggesting that there may well be such a link in American males. And there are numerous other health risks associated with being overweight or obese.

Our general advice to all men and to those actually diagnosed with prostate cancer is that lowering one’s body mass index (BMI) to below 30 and, ideally, to more like 25, is a good thing for all sorts of reasons, and has been associated with increased survival among men who have actually been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Obesity is associated with a broad spectrum of serious health issues that include the truly common (heart conditions, diabetes, etc.) and the very rare. It can also affect a spectrum of other quality of life factors (energy levels, ability to get up and down stairs, exercise capacity, etc.). On the other hand, there are quite certainly very fit people who are still overweight or obese for all sorts of biological reasons.

The question every overweight or obese individual needs to ask himself is, “Is this just the way I am built and and should accept this while making sure I am as fit and healthy as I can be, or can I actually shed the excess weight and thereby reduce my risk for all the disorders well known to be associated with a high BMI?” By comparison with all of those risks, the risk for clinically significant prostate cancer is relatively small anyway.


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