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Bowel Cancer: Overweight Teens Double Their Risk in Middle Age

May 26, 2015 01:37 PM EDT
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Obesity, especially childhood obesity, is a nationwide epidemic concerning healthcare professionals and scientists everywhere. Now, new research reveals that overweight teens may double their risk of developing bowel cancer by the time they reach middle age.

The findings were published in the aptly-named journal Gut.

Adult obesity and inflammation have been associated with an increased risk of bowel cancer, which is the third most common form of cancer among men, worldwide. However, less is known about how obesity and systemic inflammation might be influential during late adolescence.

To learn more, a team of researchers tracked the health of nearly 240,000 Swedish men, who had been recruited into the military between the ages of 16 and 20 in 1969-76. At enlistment, the men had a general health check, which included weight and height, and ESR levels. High levels of erythrocyte sedimentation rate, or ESR, are a major indicator of systemic inflammation.

The men were then monitored for bowel cancer up to 2010, using national cancer registry data. When they were first drafted, nearly 12 percent of the men were underweight, while almost 81 percent were of normal weight. Some five percent were moderately overweight; 1.5 percent were very overweight; and one percent were obese.

Astonishingly, over the course of the 35-year study period, 885 of the men developed bowel cancer, 384 of which were rectal cancers.

Those who were very overweight (BMI 27.5-30) when they enlisted, which was during adolescence, were twice as likely to develop bowel cancer compared to their normal weight peers (BMI 18.5-25). Also, obesity in young adulthood, classified as a BMI of more than 30, was associated with a 2.38 higher risk of developing bowel cancer.

In addition, young men with a high ESR of 15+ mm/hour had a 63 percent higher risk of developing bowel cancer compared to those with a low ESR (less than 10 mm/hour).

While these results are compelling, the researchers point out that they don't establish a cause-and-effect relationship, and that more research is needed to draw a definitive conclusion. However, the study does suggest that both body mass index (BMI) and inflammation during adolescence may play a role in the development of bowel cancer.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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