Monday, April 19, 2010

I'll Have a McCancer With Fries Please

In the past few years’ comical documentaries with serious messages have been sweeping the nation targeting the health consequences that can arise from fast food consumption and obesity in general. Some recent films include those such as “Supersize Me” and “Fast Food Nation."


Obviously eating fast food is not the best thing for any individual provided most cheeseburgers and French fries come laden with high amounts of sodium, fat and calories. However, beyond knowing how eating this food can give you a bulging waist line, it can also lead to levels of obesity that can greatly increase one’s risk to develop breast, pancreatic, and gastrointestinal cancers. [1] One research project conducted focused on demonstrating the relationship between obesity and breast cancer. It has been estimated that for every 5kg of weight a woman gains, the risk of developing breast cancer is increased by 1.08%. Furthermore, just an increase of one point in BMI could increase the risk of developing breast cancer by 3%. The analysts also found that obese women have a 31% increased risk of developing breast cancer. As can be seen via analysis of BMI, overall weight gain, as well as hip and waist girth the risk of breast cancer was determined. However, all of those factors can also prevent proper diagnosis of breast cancer due to several factors. [1]

One factor that can help determine the relationship between obesity and cancer development is the discovery that hormones are not properly regulated in individuals with excess weight. Obese women have a 35 % higher concentration of estrogen and 130% higher concentration of estradiol compared to women who are of normal or healthy weight. An increase in these hormones promotes increased adiposity of cells, which could lead to tumor development. Concomitant hyperinsulinaemia is another hormone found in abundance in obese women, which may promote mammary carcinogenesis by increasing the levels of insulin-like growth factor leading to tumor development. Another hormone that can cause the development of cancer if not properly regulated is leptin, which is part of a family of hormones, produced by adipocytes and has been associated with carcinogenesis in the past.

Beyond the realm of hormones, researches discovered that individuals who are obese have a higher risk of developing problems associated with the tumors that arise when one contracts breast cancer. In obese individuals it has been found that the tumors are often larger once the breast cancer is discovered and the tumors often have markers of high cellular proliferation on them. [1]

Lastly, perhaps the most devastating effect of obesity on breast cancer is the hindrance obesity causes on the various treatment options. One option to treat breast cancer is surgery. Those who are obese and under go surgery are more likely to suffer complications both during and after the procedure then those who are of a more normal weight. Obesity can also alter the success of radiotherapy and chemotherapy provided the tumor and cancerous cells cannot be as easily found or attacked. As can be seen breast cancer can drastically affect one’s chance of developing cancer and how well it is treated, however obesity can also increase one’s chance of developing pancreatic cancer. [1]

The study to determine the relationship between obesity and pancreatic cancer determined that excess body weight both accelerates pancreatic cancer development along with increasing the progression of the disease. The researchers admit that they are unaware of the mechanisms behind such a finding, however obesity acts to disturb the functioning of the immune system one way or another. In the study researchers utilized six lean mice and six obese mice. The tumors that grew in the mice were analyzed and immunochemistry was utilized to see the impact on both T and B cells. [2]

At the conclusion of the study it was determined that in mice who were over weight, pancreatic cancer tumors grew larger, metastasized more and overall decreased the survival of obese mice. The mice with the tumors also had lower amounts of circulation T and B cells. Researchers found the lower amounts to be due to down regulation of B cells as well as immunoglobulin gene expression. It is believed that a down regulation in tumor infiltrating lymphocytes was responsible for the lower lymphocyte amounts provided in analyzed tumors from obese mice, there were fewer tumor infiltrating B cells. [2]

Thus the main findings of the study were that T cells, B cells, and macrophages are present in pancreatic cancer tumors of both obese and lean mice. However, in comparisons to the tumors analyzed in lean mice, those from obsess mice once again had the lower B cell amounts. So it was presumed that obesity lowers immune functioning to limit the number of lymphocytes produced to combat developing cancerous tumors. [2]

As can be seen from the studies focusing on determining the relationship between obesity and cancer development previously discussed, excess weight plays a role in both pancreatic as well as breast dancer development. Moreover, obesity also has a significant role in the development of gastrointestinal cancer. [3]

The study was based on the emerging evidence that an association lays between both excess weight and gastrointestinal cancer. To determine such a relationship researches conducted a study in which both epidemiological and pathophysiological studies were conducted. It was found that sex plays an important role in the development of gastrointestinal cancers. Furthermore, it was found that adipose tissue, especially that surrounding on the visceral surface of organ is metabolically active with the ability to exert a systemic endocrine effect due to alteration of the insulin growth like hormone. Obesity’s effect on adipocytokines is well as sex steroids also suggest having a vital role in cancer development. [3]


Thus as can be seen, as America’s waistlines continue to grow at an alarming rate, so does the risk for developing life-threatening cancers such as breast, pancreatic, and gastrointestinal strains. However, combating the epidemic of obesity is hindered by the genetic make-up of humans. In the more ancestral times, individuals craved foods high in both fat and sugar since they provide the body with a greater amount of energy. However, people do not generally utilize all the calories they intake, which ultimately adds to an accumulation of body fat. If action is not taken to reverse or at least remedy the obesity epidemic, individuals could soon face a cancer epidemic, with no cure to turn to. [3]. So the next time you crave a McDouble or a Whopper you may want to reconsider your options. Or when they ask if you want fries with that, listen to the reality of “Do you want lies with that?”

[1] Carmichael, AR. "Obesity as a risk factor for development and poor prognosis of breast cancer." An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (2006).

[2] White, P., et al. "Pancreatic Cancer and Obesity: Do B cells play an important role?" Indiana University Medical School (2010).

[3] Donohoe, C., et al. "Obesity and gastrointestional cancer." British Journal of Surgery (2010).

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