New Study Shows Fat in ‘Unhealthy’ Locations Doubles Colorectal Cancer Patients’ Risk of Death within Seven Years of Diagnosis

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Simple Scan Results Can Help Head Off Bad Outcomes
Released: Monday, July 29, 2019

Justin C. Brown, Ph.D.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana — For colorectal cancer patients, new research shows a clearer connection than previously known between fat deposits in certain areas of the body and higher rates of death from all causes within seven years of cancer diagnosis. This new knowledge can aid physicians as they develop more personalized treatment plans for colorectal cancer patients.

The study results were published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

"Colorectal cancer patients and their oncologists need to know how obesity and body composition predict clinical outcomes after diagnosis," said Dr. Justin C. Brown, Director of the Cancer Metabolism Program at LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center and the lead author of the study. "However, patients have found there are few clear answers to even the simplest of questions, such as, 'Will my weight influence my outcome?' or 'Should I lose some weight?'"

"The conventional wisdom for many years has been that fat is bad for you. Period. End of story. But it's more complicated than that," Dr. Brown added.

Brown and colleagues found that male colorectal cancer patients with a high amount of belly fat, stored just under the skin, were more than twice as likely to die within seven years of diagnosis as male patients with very little belly fat.

Primary body fat factors that influence death rate from all causes:
  • Male or female sex
  • Extent of fat deposits
  • Fat location beneath the skin of the patient’s belly, or deep inside the abdominal cavity

However, female colorectal cancer patients with a high amount of visceral fat — fat stored deep inside the abdomen near vital organs — were more than twice as likely to die within seven years of diagnosis as female patients with very little visceral fat.

Colon cancer patients typically undergo a computed tomography scan before surgery to determine if the cancer has spread to the chest, abdomen or pelvis. The same CT scans can also be used to determine the location and amount of the patients' body fat.

Dr. Brown and his colleagues examined the health outcomes of more than 3,200 colorectal cancer patients, stages I-III, in Kaiser Permanente's Northern California Region, who were diagnosed between 2006 and 2011. The researchers examined the patients' health outcomes through the end of 2016.

Brown, the primary investigator of the study, is also an Assistant Professor at Pennington Biomedical. The facility is one of the world's top obesity research centers and is also focused on discovering the triggers of chronic diseases such as diabetes, dementia and cancer.

This work was supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under award numbers K99-CA218603; K01-CA226155; R01-CA175011; and R25-CA203650 and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under award number U54-GM104940.

The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

The study, titled "Association of Abdominal Adiposity with Mortality in Patients with Stage I-III Colorectal Cancer: A Population-Based Cohort Study (C-SCANS)," will be published in the August edition of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.



About the Pennington Biomedical Research Center

Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. The Center conducts basic, clinical, and population research, and is affiliated with Louisiana State University. The research enterprise at Pennington includes over 450 employees within a network of 40 clinics and research laboratories, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Its scientists and physician/scientists are supported by research trainees, lab technicians, nurses, dietitians, and other support personnel. Pennington Biomedical is located in state-of-the-art research facilities on a 222-acre campus in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.