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Heart risks may boost women's colon cancer risk

Staff Writer | February 3, 2017
Even normal-weight women may be at greater risk for colon cancer if they have certain traits, such as elevated levels of blood fat, high blood sugar, high blood pressure and low levels of good cholesterol, a new study suggests.
Colon cancer
Tumors   A 49 percent increased risk
Among older women of normal weight, those with so-called metabolic risk factors had a 49 percent increased risk for cancers of the colon, rectum and sigmoid colon (the lower part of the intestine connecting the rectum and colon) compared with healthy counterparts.

Current guidelines recommend colon cancer screening primarily based on a person's age. But identifying at-risk individuals by their metabolic type could help prevent these cancers and catch them at an earlier stage, saving more lives, the study authors concluded.

The takeaway: "Know your own metabolic health, even if your weight is normal," said Juhua Luo, the study's senior author. She's an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Indiana University Bloomington's School of Public Health.

Candyce Kroenke, a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente Northern California and a study co-author, said the findings "further point to the need for better measures than BMI [body mass index] to assess health risks." Body mass index is a rough estimate of a person's body fat based on height and weight measurements.

The study involved normal-weight postmenopausal women, aged 50 to 79.

It's reasonable to suspect that the findings may apply to men or younger women, too, Luo said. "But we would need additional study to answer this for sure," she added.

Dr. Andrew Chan is a gastroenterologist and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston. He agreed that the findings suggest that other factors beyond weight may be independently associated with colon cancer.

"It's really hard to prove cause and effect with this type of study, but it does raise some interesting questions," said Chan, who wasn't involved in the research.