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J Nutr. 2002 Nov;132(11 Suppl):3451S-3455S.

The underlying basis for obesity: relationship to cancer.

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  • 1Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70808, USA.


An increase in the risk of cancer is one of the consequences of obesity. The predominant cancers associated with obesity have a hormonal base and include breast, prostate, endometrium, colon and gallbladder cancers. As the basis for understanding the problem of obesity has advanced, a number of new ideas have emerged about the relationship of obesity to cancer. The conversion of androstenedione secreted by the adrenal gland into estrone by aromatase in adipose tissue stroma provides an important source of estrogen for the postmenopausal woman. This estrogen may play an important role in the development of endometrial and breast cancer. Of interest is that experimental animals lacking aromatase or the estrogen receptor alpha are obese. Leptin is one of the many products produced by fat cells and has given rise to the ideas that the fat cell is an endocrine cell and that adipose tissue is an endocrine organ. The increased release of cytokines from this tissue may play a role in the inflammatory state that is associated with obesity. The gut also plays an important role in signaling satiety in response to food intake. Colon cancer is an important human disease, and experimental mice lacking gastrin are obese and have an increased risk of developing colon cancer in response to carcinogenic drugs. Efforts to control obesity through preventive strategies and treatment can be expected to have a benefit in reducing the risk of cancer.

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