Study Sheds New Light On How Obesity May Contribute To Cancer

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It's long been known that obesity is a risk factor for several cancers. But what remains unclear is how obesity, per se, contributes to cancer risk. A preclinical study by investigators at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston has shed new light on the link between expanding waistlines and cancer.

According to the researchers, cancer cells send a signal attracting progenitor cells from white adipose tissue - one of the two types of fat tissue. In turn, the progenitor cells support the network of blood vessels that nourish tumors consequently resulting in cancer progression.

This study, which involved mouse models of cancer, is the first to demonstrate that excess fat is a key factor in cancer progression irrespective of the diet contributing to the extra weight. This finding is different from one of the existing theories that suggests what obese people eat may affect cancer progression.

Explaining how fat progenitor cells may contribute to cancer growth, Yan Zhang, the study's lead author and research scientist at the UTHealth Medical School said, "Our experiments show that fat progenitors are recruited by tumors, where they incorporate into blood vessels and become fat cells. We found that obese animal fat progenitor cells recruited by tumors improved vascular function and, therefore, increased survival and proliferation of cancer cells."

It is estimated that excess body weight contributes to about 14 to 20 percent of cancer deaths in the U.S. According to the National Cancer Institute, obesity is associated with increased risks of cancers of the esophagus, breast (postmenopausal), endometrium (the lining of the uterus), colon and rectum, kidney, pancreas, thyroid, gallbladder, and possibly other cancer types.

The investigators at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston will next be focusing on how to inactivate fat progenitor cells in an effort to slow cancer progression.

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