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Prostate cancer linked to obesity

June 10, 2021 | Audrey-Maude Vézina

Update : June 10, 2021

An INRS team is investigating the relationship between body mass and the risk of developing cancer.

Man with abdominal obesity.
Abdominal obesity appears to be associated with a greater risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer among Canadian men and the third leading cause of cancer death. Abdominal obesity appears to be associated with a greater risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer. This link was demonstrated in a study led by Professor Marie-Élise Parent of Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) and published in the journal Cancer Causes & Control.

Over the years, several studies have shown that obesity is a major risk factor for prostate cancer. To further explore the link between disease incidence and body mass, the research team studied data from a survey conducted in Montréal between 2005 and 2012. Researchers observed that abdominal obesity was associated with an increased risk of aggressive cancer.

“Pinpointing the risk factors for aggressive cancer is a big step forward in health research because it’s the hardest to treat. This data creates an opportunity to work preventively, by monitoring men with this risk factor more closely.”

Marie-Élise Parent, specialist in cancer epidemiology


Abdominal and general obesity

The actual distribution of body fat appears to be a significant factor in the development of the disease: the impact on a person’s health can vary depending on whether the fat is concentrated around the abdomen or distributed throughout the body. According to Éric Vallières, a Université de Montréal student conducting his doctoral research at INRS and the study’s main author, “Abdominal obesity causes hormonal and metabolic variations that can promote the growth of hormone-dependent cancer cells. Abdominal obesity is believed to be associated with a decrease in testosterone, as well as a state of chronic inflammation linked to the development of aggressive tumours.”

General obesity did not show the same correlation as abdominal fat. This may result from a detection bias and possible biological effects. “In obese people, the protein used to detect prostate cancer at an early stage, prostate-specific antigen (PSA), is diluted in the blood,” Mr. Vallières says. “This hemodilution makes cancer more difficult to detect.”

The research team believes that studies on the timing of obesity exposure over a lifetime should be prioritized, and that a more in-depth analysis of body fat distribution could provide greater insight into the risks of developing prostate cancer.


About the study

The article “General and abdominal obesity trajectories across adulthood, and risk of prostate cancer: results from the PROtEuS study, Montreal, Canada,” by Éric Vallières, Miceline Mésidor, Marie-Hélène Roy-Gagnon, Hugues Richard and Marie-Élise Parent, was published in Cancer Causes & Control in April. The study received funding from the Canadian Cancer Society, the Cancer Research Society, Fonds de recherche du Québec–Santé (FRQS), Ministère de l’Économie et de l’Innovation and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).


About Marie-Élise Parent

Marie-Élise Parent was recently appointed to the Scientific Council of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a component of the World Health Organization, for a four-year term. She was nominated by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). This appointment recognizes her expertise in the field and furthers INRS’s global impact in the fight against cancer.