Posted on May 19, 2023, 1 p.m.
According to a study that was recently presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Dublin, Ireland, young men who gain a significant amount of weight at an early age are at an increased likelihood of developing prostate cancer. The researchers suggest that weight gain during a man’s teenage years and twenties increases the risk of developing lethal tumors later in life by nearly a third.
The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be around 288,300 new cases of prostate cancer diagnoses within America during 2023. This study's results come from an analysis of over a quarter million participants with an average age of 43 years old and could be beneficial to combating prostate cancer, which is the second deadliest cancer among men. The researchers concluded that preventing weight gain during a man’s young adulthood could help to reduce the risk of developing aggressive and fatal prostate cancer.
“Knowing more about the factors that cause prostate cancer is key to preventing it. The only well-established risk factors, such as increasing age, a family history of the disease, and several genetic markers, are not modifiable, making it vital to identify risk factors that can be changed,” says Dr. Marisa da Silva, the study’s lead author from Lund University. “This makes it essential to identify risk factors that can be altered.”
Some forms of cancer, such as prostate cancer, can grow slowly, and some may not harm a man in his lifetime, but some can be very aggressive and difficult to treat, and some can even spread quickly to other organs. Research has established a strong link between certain cancers and having excess body fat, however, the underlying reasons as to why are unclear.
“Previous research has implicated elevated concentrations of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), a hormone that is involved in cell growth and development, with an increased risk of prostate cancer,” explains Dr. da Silva. “Levels of this hormone are raised in people with obesity and a steep increase in weight may fuel this elevation and the development of the cancer.”
Data was analyzed from 258,477 men who were enrolled in the Obesity and Disease Development Sweden Study (ODDS) who had their weight measured at least 3 times between the ages of 17-60 and were free from cancer at enrollment, participants were followed until 2019 recording diagnoses as well as deaths.
Findings revealed that 23,348 participants were diagnosed with prostate cancer with 4,790 losing their battle with the disease. The average weight gain was found to be highest early in life, 1.6 pounds annually from the ages of 17-29, then 0.75 pounds annually from the ages of 30-44, and then 0.5 pounds annually from the ages of 45-60.
According to the researchers, the trend displayed a connection with the development and aggressiveness of cancer. A weight gain of 1.1 pounds through a man’s lifetime increased the risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer by 10% and fatal prostate cancer by 29%. Additionally, further analysis found the links were most significant between the ages of 17-29 when a weight gain of 2.2 annual pounds has a 13% increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer and a 37% increased risk of fatal prostate cancer.
“We do not know if it is the weight gain itself or the long duration of being heavier that is the main driver of the association that we see. Nevertheless, one must gain weight to become heavier, so preventing a steep increase in weight in young men is imperative for the prevention of prostate cancer,” Dr. da Silva concludes.
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