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Biology Articles » Genetics » Clinical Genetics » Colon Cancer Link To Obesity Uncovered
October 2008 — A new study reveals the
first-ever genetic link between obesity and colon cancer risk, a
finding that could lead to greater accuracy in testing for the disease,
said a researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).
The discovery also may improve efforts to ward off colon cancer with
obesity-fighting activities like exercise, weight loss and healthy
"Our hope is that we can significantly improve the screening and
early detection for this disease, and open new avenues for better
understanding the genetic and lifestyle factors that influence colon
cancer risk," said Boris Pasche, M.D., Ph.D., director of the division
of hematology and oncology at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and
lead author of the JAMA study.
The research focuses on a gene called ADIPOQ that results in the
formation of a fat hormone called adiponectin. It shows those who
inherit a common genetic variant of ADIPOQ carry up to 30 percent
reduced risk of colon cancer compared to others.
In other words, Pasche said, those identified without the gene
variant or those who have unhealthy blood levels of adiponectin may
benefit from early colorectal testing. Additional studies are needed to
confirm whether those without the variant benefit from
cancer-prevention lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise.
Colon cancer is the third-leading cancer killer of Americans. This
year 149,000 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer and 50,000 will
die from the disease, according to estimates from the American Cancer
One-third of people with colon cancer have a clear family history of
the disease, and now scientists are homing in on the exact DNA
sequences or mutations within the ADIPOQ gene that influence colon
cancer risk, Pasche said.
It has already been proven that obesity is influenced by genetics,
and colon cancer is influenced by genetics. The JAMA study is the first
to make a three-way scientific connection between genetic variation,
obesity and colon cancer risk.
Other research has shown adiponectin is associated with diabetes,
insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease and with influencing cell
growth in colonic tissues. Exactly how adiponectin or its genes
directly impact tumor growth is still unknown, but those cell pathways
are being widely studied, Pasche said.
A separate gene variant in ADIPOQ is a known modifier for
breast-cancer risk, according a recent study in the journal Cancer
Research that was co-authored by Pasche.
The new JAMA study was performed with blood samples taken from 1,497
participants, including healthy volunteers and colon cancer patients.
It includes both sexes and a mix of age, race and ethnicity.
The study's collaborators include researchers from Northwestern
University in Chicago, the University of Chicago, Harvard Medical
School in Boston, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York
and Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, N.H. Funding was provided by
the Walter S. Mander Foundation, the Lynn Sage Foundation, the Niehaus
Clinical Cancer Genetics Initiative, the National Institutes of Health,
a Jeannik M. Littlefield grant from the American Association for Cancer
Research and the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
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