The cancer-obesity connection: where are we now?


Post by Rabia Begum

Obesity is emerging as a major risk factor to cancer susceptibility. With obesity rates on the rise around the world, this has major health and policy implications for us all.

This link between cancer and obesity was debated at the Metabolism, Diet and Disease Conference in 2012, in which the focus was on metabolic factors in common between obesity and cancer and potential strategies for intervening to reduce the associated health risks.

The panel, including Michael Pollak and Stephen Hursting, also discussed the fact that anti-cancer agents are less effective in obese cancer patients, and that the metabolic link to different cancers may not always be the same. Take a look at some of the highlights from the discussion:

(You can also watch the whole discussion on Youtube)

As you’ll see in the video,  insulin signaling was proposed as a pathway toward which potential therapies could be targeted. This led in turn to the argument for calorie restriction as a more tangible intervention to reduce cancer risk.

Although this approach lends itself as an attractive long-term solution, there are many unanswered questions because it’s not known whether the effect of calorie restriction on the reduction  of cancer risk is actually due to the restriction of dietary carbohydrate in a low-calorie diet or independent of it – a contentious area of study for which we are awaiting good data.

The issues raised in the discussion led naturally to the topic for the debate at this year’s Metabolism, Diet and Disease Conference – ‘Is cancer preventable? – The influence of diet on cancer’.

Leading researchers including Lewis Cantley and Elio Riboli will address these important themes from mechanistic and epidemiological perspectives, and will talk about therapeutic strategies that will be applicable on the population wide level.

We’re expecting the issue of altered fructose metabolism will be introduced as a key player in the causal link between obesity and some cancers, which will no doubt give rise to policy issues that need to be addressed.

“Having been in cancer epidemiology for almost three decades now, I would say, I see where we are with obesity now, with due prudence, is where we were with smoking in the 1970s,” says Elio Riboli in a recent interview with BMC Biology. “Everybody knew it was bad, but people were smoking everywhere!”

Undoubtedly, this year’s panel will consider how with better education and understanding of the risk factors, obesity and obesity-related cancer could be tackled in the same way that smoking has – it’s likely to be a very interesting debate!

Metabolism, Diet and Disease Conference is taking place from 28-30 May 2014 in Washington DC, USA. Early bird rates are available until tomorrow – Wednesday 5th March. To register, visit:

View the latest posts on the On Biology homepage

One Comment

Luis F Pineda MD MSHA

i am enjoying the conference very much.
i am impressed by the number of people here as well as been young researchers in basic science of cancer.
been a practicing physician, i express my frustration of so much knowledge, that is not, practically, utilize in actual clinical practice. given the extent, severity of the problem, I think there is a social responsibility of groups like this to society. we must make a difference

Comments are closed.