Why is obesity only weakly associated with certain “obesity-driven” cancers? Recent population studies identify cohorts of high body mass index (BMI) subjects with unexpectedly reduced risk for breast and colon cancer, and normal BMI subjects with unexpectedly elevated risk for breast cancer, provoking hard thinking about cellular and molecular mechanisms that most strongly couple obesity to cancer occurrence or progression. Emerging work suggests that abnormal metabolism and its associated chronic inflammation make the difference. Type II diabetes, for example, is a chronic inflammatory disease with specific imbalances in T-cell and myeloid-origin cytokines. Inflammation is elevated systemically, measured through blood biomarkers, and locally in adipose tissue. Here, cytokines and chemokines likely modify tumor microenvironments in dangerous ways. High BMI subjects with low inflammation and less disturbed metabolism appear to have reduced risk for certain obesity-associated cancers, whereas lean or slightly overweight subjects with high inflammation and metabolic abnormalities have elevated risk. This latter phenotype is prevalent among South Asian adults and suggests we are not monitoring certain normal weight adults sufficiently for risks of “obesity-associated” cancers. Profiling of patient metabolism and inflammation should accompany measures of body composition when considering cancer risk; the evidence base for these refinements must be extended through new, prospective observational studies. Cancer Prev Res; 10(5); 1–3. ©2017 AACR.
See related article by Iyengar et al., Cancer Prev Res 2017;10(4):235–43.
- Received March 20, 2017.
- Revision received March 29, 2017.
- Accepted March 29, 2017.
- ©2017 American Association for Cancer Research.