Poor metabolic health may increase colorectal cancer risk in normal-weight postmenopausal women

Liz Meszaros, MDLinx | February 01, 2017

Compared with normal-weight postmenopausal women who are metabolically healthy, normal-weight postmenopausal women with decreased metabolic health may be at a significantly increased risk for colorectal cancer, according to a study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.


Poor metabolic health

In postmenopausal, normal-weight women, this may be associated with an increased risk of CRC.

“Our finding that normal-weight US women who are metabolically unhealthy have an increased risk of colorectal cancer compared with those who are metabolically healthy highlights how important it is for women to be aware of their metabolic health status, which can be assessed using standard clinical tests,” said Xiaoyun Liang, MD, PhD, associate professor, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China. 

“Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer for women in the United States,” she continued. “Recognition that normal-weight women who are metabolically unhealthy may have an increased risk for colorectal cancer could result in more timely use of preventive interventions and reduce the burden of this deadly disease.”

Dr. Liang and fellow researchers collected data from 5,068 postmenopausal women who enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative. They defined normal weight as a BMI of 18.5 kg/m2 to < 25 kg/m2. When these researchers assessed metabolic health in these women—via waist circumference, blood pressure, triglycerides, glucose, and HDL-C levels—33.7% were found to be metabolically unhealthy.

Subjects were followed for a mean of 14.3 years, and of the 3,358 metabolically healthy women, 64 had colorectal cancer, compared with 50 of the 1,710 metabolically unhealthy women. After multivariate adjustment, researchers calculated that those who were metabolically unhealthy had a 49% increased risk for colorectal cancer compared with those who were metabolically healthy. In addition, women with metabolic syndrome had over a 2-fold higher risk of colorectal cancer compared with their metabolically healthy companions.

Study limitations, explained Dr. Liang, included the single measurement BMI and components of metabolic health at the time of enrollment in the Women’s Health Initiative, which made possible changes over time impossible to analyze; and secondly, that results from this study population can be generalized only to postmenopausal women and not men or younger women.

The study was supported by a grant from the National Cancer Institute and the Youth Scholars Program of Beijing Normal University.